A recent case has highlighted three key aspects of the Inheritance Act that are particularly relevant to claims made when a cohabiting partner dies.
We receive a lot of enquiries from people who are plunged into financial trouble when their partner dies either leaving no Will at all or naming other benficiaries in their Will. The consequences can be far reaching and in many cases it can leave the surviving partner without a roof over their head.
So if your partner dies, what inheritance rights do you have?
While the intestacy rules don't help unmarried people with long term partners, the Inheritance Act is able to provide financial relief for bereaved partners who suffer financial hardship.
And the case of Taylor v Redmond serves as a useful illustration of the issues that can arise.
The case involved an application by Ms. Carole Taylor for provision from the Estate of her partner, Mr James Redmond. The net value of the Estate was around £900,000. The claim was made against Mr Redmond's two Daughters, who were the sole beneficiaries of his estate under his Will.
First, in order to pursue a Claim under the Inheritance Act, you must “qualify” by falling within a specified category of Claimant.
Ms. Taylor claimed under Section (1) (1A), which applies “to a person if the deceased died on or after 1st January 1996 and, during the whole of the period of two years ending immediately before the date when the deceased died, the person was living – (a) in the same household as the deceased, and (b) as the husband or wife of the deceased”.
Ms Taylor therefore made her claim on the basis that she had lived in the same one-bed flat with ther partner, as man and wife, for seven years prior to his death. The Daughters argued that their Father had numerous ongoing relationships with other women alongside his relationship with Ms. Taylor, that he had asked her to move out towards the end of his life, and that she was a mere lodger.
The Judge rejected the Daughters' arguments, viewing the other females as nothing more than friends of the Deceased. It was said that there was sufficient evidence that the Deceased treated Ms. Taylor as his partner, including references in medical records and even a letter from one of the Daughters referring to her as their “step-mother”.
Accordingly, Ms. Taylor satisfied the requirement and was deemed eligible to pursue a Claim.
Second, a clear feature of this case was the poor view taken of the Daughters’ conduct.
A factor the Court is required to take into account is “the financial resources and financial needs which any beneficiary of the estate of the deceased has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future”. It would appear that, initially, the Daughters claimed to be in necessitous circumstances themselves. However, at trial, these claims were abandoned and the Daughters accepted that they were financially comfortable.
Further, the Daughters had effectively forced Ms. Taylor out of the flat she had shared with her partner. They had falsely represented to her that they had no choice but to sell the flat as they didn’t stand to benefit from the Estate, despite being the only beneficiaries under the Will. The only alternative they had offered was for Ms. Taylor to enter into a formal tenancy of the flat, at £850 per month, a price that they knew would be unaffordable with her limited means.
These actions were considered extremely distasteful and whilst they cannot be said to have, on their own, led to an award being made to Ms. Taylor, they would certainly have been strong factors in the Court deciding that an award ought to be made.
Finally, the Award itself is of significant interest.
It is plain from the Judgment that this was an extremely meritable claim from a long-term partner of the Deceased, in financial need, from a substantial Estate, against two financially comfortable Daughters.
The court's award gave Ms. Taylor:
(i) £145,000 for capitalised maintenance and a new car,
(ii) a Life Interest in a new £180,000 property, together with the costs of the transaction, and
(iii) her legal costs.
It is the second element of the award that is of particular interest as, despite the clear merit in the claim, the Court did not award the capital / freehold interest of the new Property to Ms. Taylor, preferring a Life Interest instead.
One of the most notable elements of the Supreme Court Judgment in the much-publicised case of Ilot v Mitson (2017) was that Life Interest awards would be preferred generally over Capital Interest awards.
So, if your partner has died and you want to know what your inheritance rights are Ihen please contact our Contentious Probate Team on 0808 139 1599. We handle a variety of disputes surrounding Estates, including Inheritance Act Claims.