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Making an Inheritance Act Claim to Challenge a Will or the Rules of Intestacy

Generally, we are all free to dispose of our assets as we want to. However, the law does provide protection for people who have been financially dependent on the now deceased in the form of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

The Inheritance Act is in place to help spouses, children, civil partners, cohabitees and other surviving dependants who have been left to cope without sufficient financial support to get by. If a will or intestacy fails to make reasonable financial provision, then the Inheritance Act will come into play.

How to make an Inheritance Act claim

To bring a claim, the court must be satisfied that you are entitled to make the claim. The Inheritance Act states that the following must apply:

  • The deceased must have been living in England and Wales at the time of their death.
  • You, as the applicant, must be one of the following:
    • the spouse or civil partner of the deceased;
    • the former spouse or former civil partner of the deceased (as long as the deceased has not re-married or formed another civil partnership);
    • a child of the deceased;
    • where there is a marriage or civil partnership, a person who was treated by the deceased as a child of the family;
    • immediately before the death of the deceased, you were dependent, either wholly or partly, on the deceased;
    • if cohabiting with the deceased, then you must have been living with the deceased for a period of at least two years.
  • The application must be made within six months of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. The applicant will have a further four months to serve proceedings once issued.

The court will consider whether reasonable financial provision has already been made for you, the extent of which will be decided by the court and will vary according to your status.

Under the Inheritance Act, the court will consider the applicant's needs and resources against what would be reasonable for their maintenance. The court will look at the following matters as set out in section 3(1) of the 1975 Act:

  • the financial resources and financial needs of the applicant;
  • the financial resources and financial needs of any other applicant;
  • the financial resources and financial needs of any beneficiary of the estate;
  • any obligations and responsibilities which the deceased had towards any applicant or any beneficiary;
  • the size and nature of the deceased's estate;
  • any physical or mental disability of any applicant or any beneficiary;
  • any other matter, including the conduct of the applicant or any other person, which, in the circumstances of the case, the court may consider relevant.

Claims by spouses and civil partners differ as the court will look beyond what is necessary purely for maintenance and will take several other factors into consideration such as:

  • The age of the person making the Inheritance Act claim;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The contribution to the welfare of the family that has been made by the person bringing the Inheritance Act claim;
  • The provision that the person bringing the Inheritance Act claim might reasonably have expected to receive if the marriage had been terminated by divorce.

The types of orders the court can make

Section 2 of the Act enables the court to make any one or more of the following orders:

  • a periodical payments or 'maintenance' order, for regular payments of a specific sum;
  • a lump sum order or 'one off' payment;
  • a transfer or sale of property order;
  • an order redistributing or acquiring property, for example, for a trust for the applicant;
  • an order varying any pre-nuptial or post-nuptial settlement (including such a settlement made by will) where the deceased was married.

At Parfitt Cresswell, we can advise both individual claimants wishing to make a claim for adequate financial provision and beneficiaries who want to defend their interests under a disputed will, and firmly believe that Inheritance Act disputes should be mediated outside of a court environment, wherever possible.

If you are considering making a claim under the Inheritance Act, it is essential that you seek specialist advice at the earliest opportunity, as Inheritance Act claims must be brought within 6 months of the Grant of Representation to the estate. If you have already left it too long, we may still be able to help you, but you will need to act quickly. If you are unsure of your position, please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our family law specialists.

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore, no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.