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As specialists in Will and Inheritance Disputes we frequently encounter claims between the children of a deceased’s earlier marriage/relationship and the deceased’s later husband/wife.
Sometimes the deceased’s Will has been made in favour of the new spouse. On other occasions the Will favours the children. In either case it is open to anyone feeling aggrieved by the contents of the Will (or by the consequences of the laws of intestacy where there is no Will) to apply to Court for “reasonable financial provision” to be made for them from the deceased’s estate, under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
The deceased’s wishes in their Will are important and carry weight, but the purpose of the Inheritance Act is to allow the Court to vary the Will in appropriate circumstances.
Whoever is bringing the claim, the Court will take into account the financial resources and the financial needs of the applicant and of the estate beneficiaries; the size of the estate; any obligations or responsibilities the deceased had at the time of his/her death; and any other matter that the Court considers relevant.
When a spouse is bringing a claim, the Court will also consider the duration of the marriage and what the applicant may have been entitled to upon divorce. There is no limit to the amount that the Court can award to a spouse.
On the other hand, when a child of the deceased brings a claim they must demonstrate a need for maintenance, and their award will be limited to what is required to satisfy their need for maintenance.
The recent High Court decision in the case of Miles and Another v Shearer (2021) highlights the way in which claims by adult children are dealt with. The applicants were the 39 and 40 year old daughters who sought “reasonable financial provision” from their father’s estate. Under his Will he left everything to his second wife, whom he married 10 years before his death. The Trial Judge held that the Deceased had been entitled to make a Will leaving everything to his second wife, even if that upset his daughters. Regardless of the family history and dynamics, and the alleged personal wealth of the second wife, because the daughters could not show they were in financial need of maintenance their claims were dismissed.
Although the Court’s decision about liability for the costs of the litigation has not been reported, there is no doubt that each party will have incurred tens of thousands of pounds in legal costs and the usual rule is that the “loser” must pay the costs of the“winner”.
The specialist members of the Will, Trust and Inheritance Disputes Team at Bell & Buxton Solicitors are available for an initial discussion about bringing or defending applications under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 in any estate, without obligation or charge.