How successful are the Inheritance Act 1975 Claims?
It is always difficult when our loved ones pass away, but it is even more distressing to find out that you have not been provided for – you may have been completely left out of a Will, or given very little, or if there is no Will, then you might not be entitled to inherit anything (or very little) under intestacy. If you find yourself in any of the above positions, you may be wondering whether it is possible for you to make a claim against the estate and if so, how successful such a claim is? In this article, we will consider these questions.
Kaur v Singh
In a very recent case of Kaur v Singh , Mrs Kaur made a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975  (“The Inheritance Act 1975”) against her husband’s estate to receive a financial provision after being left out of his Will completely. The deceased made a Will in which he left all of his estate to his sons without making any provisions for his wife of 66 years. When arriving at his decision, the judge noted that this case was as straightforward as it can be and ordered for Mrs Kaur to receive half of her husband’s net estate. The main factors influencing the judge’s decision were the fact that all of the assets in the estate had been acquired during the marriage and there was no doubt that Mrs Kaur had contributed to the marriage fully. Another important factor was employing a “divorce cross check” test in which the judge considered what portion of the estate Mrs Kaur would be entitled had she and her husband divorced on the day he passed away. The judge believed that Mrs Kaur would have been entitled to at least half of the estate.
As noted by the judge in the above case, this was a very clear-cut case where the judge felt that he could not decide other than in favour of the widow’s application. However, most cases are not straightforward which makes it difficult to predict which claim will be successful or not. Take for example the case of Larsen v Annan .
Larsen v Annan
In this recent case, two sons made respective claims for financial provision under the Inheritance Act 1975 against their father’s estate. Both sons were only given £10,000 each whilst the rest of the estate went to the deceased’s daughter. It transpired that originally the deceased did not wish to provide for neither of his sons entirely due to their past behaviour (manslaughter and gambling) and the only reason for including the £10,000 gift to each son was the possibility of them bringing a claim against his estate. The judge in this case found that only one son was not financially provided for due to his disability and ruled for him to receive additional £25,000 in a discretionary trust. The other son’s claim was unsuccessful.
Who can make a claim?
One would have thought that the wishes of the testator should be respected as it is their right to decide who should inherit their estate. However, as illustrated, the Inheritance Act 1975 enables certain relatives such as a spouse or a civil partner (even a former spouse or civil partner), a child (minor, adult, step-child or adopted child) or financial dependants of the deceased to make a claim against the deceased’s estate when they were not provided for at all, or they inherit very little. It does not matter whether this is due to a Will or intestacy, or a combination of both.
Is there a time limit to make a claim?
If you fall within any of the categories specified by the Inheritance Act, then you have 6 months from the issue of the grant of representation to make a claim (although there has been an instance where the judge allowed the claimant to bring a claim after the expiry of this period since the justice would otherwise be obstructed).
How successful are claims under the Inheritance Act 1975?
Having now identified who can make a claim and when, the most important question presents itself - what makes a claim successful? As demonstrated by the two cases, the answer is not straightforward by any means. Each individual case is decided at judge’s discretion based on its own facts and evidence. When arriving at their decisions, the judges will consider a number of factors such as financial needs of the claimant, the size of the estate, any disabilities of the claimant or a beneficiary, the nature of the relationship between the claimant and deceased and so on. As demonstrated in Larsen v Annan, it was only disability of one of the sons which prompted to judge to rule that the deceased did not financially provide for his son, whereas the other son was found to be financially provided for by receiving a gift of £10,000. It is worth noting that the judge only ordered for the son with a successful claim to receive a lump sum rather than a big chunk of his father’s estate – simply by assessing the size of the estate and the original daughter’s needs and her relationship with the deceased.
Do I have any other options?
It is important to note that claims are costly and eat into the value of the estate considerably. Given the unpredictability of success rate of the claims and how expensive they can be, you might want to consider settling out of court - that is trying to reach an agreement between parties.
How can we help?
At Parfitt Cresswell, we know how stressful these situations can be and have a range of experienced solicitors and legal experts who would be able to assist you to make an informed decision. Whether you would like to try to reach an agreement out of court or are considering making a claim against the estate or are defending a claim, it is important to seek a legal advice of an experienced solicitor/legal expert. They will be able to discuss strengths and weaknesses for each of the options you will have and will give you a clear picture of what the legal costs are likely to be for any of the options you might be considering.
  EWHC 304 (Fam)
  EWHC 662 (Ch)
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