A Warning to Testators and Claimants Under the Inheritance Act
A recent case has highlighted the importance of ensuring that testators do not act irrationally or unreasonably in excluding family members from their Will and that Claimants are not greedy when it comes to the provision they are seeking under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
The case in question involved a mother (Melita) and daughter (Heather) who had been at logger-heads on and off for many years. Following their final disagreement, over the name Heather chose for her fifth child, Melita wrote Heather out of her Will completely and bequeathed her estate (some £486,000) to three animal charities (The Blue Cross, RSPB and the RSPCA).
Following Melita’s death in 2004, Heather brought a claim against her mother’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 as a child of the deceased who did not receive reasonable financial provision from her estate.
Despite the fact that Melita’s will was accompanied by a letter of wishes explaining why she had excluded Heather from her estate (albeit the reason provided related to an earlier dispute), the Court ruled in Heather’s favour in 2007. It found that reasonable financial provision had not been made for Heather from her mother’s estate and awarded her £50,000.
However, Heather appealed the decision to the High Court on the basis that £50,000 was an insufficient sum to meet her needs. Instead of increasing the award to Heather the High Court ruled in favour of the charities’ cross appeal in 2009 and awarded Heather nothing.
Heather has now appealed this decision to the Court of Appeal, arguing that she was in need of the money as, at 50 years of age, she has no earning capacity, no pension and 5 children between the ages of 14 and 27. The charities argue that granting the appeal would undermine a testator’s freedom to leave their assets to whoever they wish in a will.
We await the Court of Appeal’s ruling, but the case highlights the importance of a testator ensuring that their will is not irrational and unreasonable in excluding family members, particularly where they are in financial difficulty. It is also a stark reminder to claimants under the 1975 Act that they should not be too greedy in holding out for more from their claim, particularly as the ultimate result may be that the estate is diminished so significantly in legal costs that there is very little left in the pot to claim against.
If you think that you may have a claim under the 1975 Inheritance Act, then please do not hesitate to speak to one of our contentious probate lawyers on 0808 139 1599.