Contested Wills and Financial Provision
Widow who was left nothing following a 66-year marriage.
A recent case of a widow winning half of her late husband’s £1 million estate despite his Will completely excluding herself and her daughters, is the latest in a number of cases to make headline news.
Mrs Harbans Kaur made her claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. She was 83 years old, and her only income was state benefits of just under £12,000 per annum, despite her late husband leaving an estate of more than £1 million.
A claim under the 1975 Act can be brought by a certain category of people, including surviving spouses (in a marriage or civil partnership) and children as well as anyone who immediately before the death of the deceased was being maintained, either wholly or partly, by the deceased. A claim would be on the basis that the disposition of the deceased’s estate effected by his Will or the law relating to intestacy does not make reasonable financial provision for them.
In these claims, the 1975 Act requires the court to consider two questions:
- Does the Will fail to make reasonable financial provision for the claimant?
- If so, what should the financial provision be?
In deciding these questions, the court considers factors listed in the 1975 Act as follows:
- The financial resources and needs of the applicant;
- The financial resources and needs of any other applicant;
- The financial resources and needs of the beneficiaries;
- Any obligations and responsibilities of the deceased towards any applicant and any beneficiary;
- The size and nature of the estate of the deceased;
- Any physical or mental disability of any applicant or beneficiary;
- Any other matter, including conduct, which the court may consider relevant.
For claims by spouses the court will also consider:
- The age of the applicant and the length of the marriage/civil partnership.
- The contribution made by the applicant to the welfare of the family of the deceased including any contribution made by looking after the home or caring for the family.
- The provision the applicant might reasonably have expected to receive if on the day the deceased died the marriage were terminated by divorce rather than death. This is often referred to as the “divorce cross check” and generally a surviving spouse should not be worse off as widow as compared to a divorcee.
In this case, the estate was valued at around £2 million, the accumulated wealth was built up during the 66-year marriage. The matrimonial home was an asset of the estate and the widow had been left nothing.
In his Judgment Mr Justice Peel concluded that “After a marriage of 66 years, to which she made a full and equal contribution, and during which all the assets accrued, she is left with next to nothing. …. She should receive 50% of the net value of the estate.”.
It was an unusual feature of this case that the widow had been left nothing. It is important to be aware that all claims under the 1975 Act, including those by surviving spouses, will be decided on the facts and circumstances of the case in question. Usually there would need to be a more detailed consideration of whether what a spouse has been left amounts to reasonable financial provision.
Martyn Trenerry, Member, Solicitor and specialist in Dispute Wills, said:
“In this case the Claimant had limited her claim to 50 percent of the estate. There is often an expectation that that a surviving spouse might receive 50 percent, however this is not a fixed limit and for some spouses there is the possibility of seeking a much larger share. It all depends on the particular circumstances including the value of the estate and the claimant’s financial needs.
Any claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975, any claims must be brought within six months from the date of the grant of probate.”