Cohabitee succeeds in obtaining provision from her partner’s estate contrary to his explicit wishes
The High Court has ruled in favour of an elderly cohabitee whose late partner failed to make provision for her within his Will in an attempt to prevent her children benefiting from his estate.
The Claimant, Joan Thompson, had moved in with Wynford Hodge in the 1970’s. They had lived together in Wynford’s property for forty-two years prior to his death and Joan had been financially dependant upon him throughout that time. Joan had provided care for Wynford’s mother at the end of her life and, later on, had provided some care for Wynford himself. He also provided her with care as her health deteriorated. She had eventually gone to live in a nursing home but returned to a caravan near their home which Wynford had purchased specifically so that she could come back home.
Wynford had made a series of Wills during the course of their relationship, all but the last of which provided for Joan. The last Will, dated 19 December 2016, was accompanied by a letter of wishes which explained why Wynford had failed to provide for Joan. The letter stated that Wynford did believe Joan needed provision and that she would be unable to live in his property after his death as he was her main carer. It also stated that he did not want Joan’s children to benefit from his estate as he did not trust three out of four of them and felt that they had taken advantage of him in the past.
There was little factual dispute in the case. It was accepted that Joan had lived with Wynford for over four decades and that she was financially dependant upon him. It was undisputed that Wynford had accepted responsibility for Joan throughout their time together. She was therefore entitled to pursue a claim as a cohabitee under Section 1(1)(ba) of the Inheritance Act 1975 or alternatively as a dependant under Section 1(1)(e).
At the time of making his last Will, Wynford appeared to believe that Joan had sufficient assets and income not to need financial provision from his estate, however this was found not to be the case. Joan had very modest savings and an income of £1,114 per month. In contrast to her limited means she had significant needs and would require a care package if she were to leave the nursing home which she had returned to following Wynford’s death. Expert evidence was obtained which stated that Joan could return to her home with a social care package and care from her son and his wife. It was recommended that she should leave the nursing home if possible to prevent her becoming institutionalised.
The real dispute in this case arose over the value of reasonable financial provision for Joan’s maintenance. The estate had a value of just over £1,500,000 for probate purposes and was made up of a number of properties amongst other assets. Shortly before his death Wynford had purchased a cottage with a view to moving into it with Joan. Her legal team suggested that it would be reasonable for that cottage to be transferred to her to live in as that was the reason for its purchase. They also sought a cash lump sum to cover the costs identified by the care expert. The defendants’ legal team did not agree that this would be reasonable and, in light of Wynford’s clear desire for Joan’s children not to benefit, suggested that a life interest in a property would be more appropriate than a transfer.
The Court decided that Joan was entitled to provision from the estate and that such provision would include the cottage Wynford had purchased shortly before his death. Joan was also awarded a lump sum of £160,000 to provide for her living costs and care.
The Court’s decision meant that Joan received the financial provision she needed whilst preserving a large inheritance for the beneficiaries of Wynford’s Will.