Excluded from a will?
With today’s more fractured and complicated family relationships, it is fairly common for those making wills, for whatever reason they see fit, to exclude relatives.
In that situation, an aggrieved and dependant relation may apply to have the deceased’s wishes overturned but this will depend on 3 factors :-
- establishing genuine financial need
- a close enough family connection, such as parent and child
- the court examining the motives for the applicant having been left out of the will
To complicate matters further, where assets are fairly substantial, beneficiaries who are included in a will well may also contest the claim for dependancy.
A recent case illustrates the risks involved for all parties and the approach a court may adopt. The case is reported in full here.The basic scenario was as follows :-
- the deceased left assets of just under £500,000.00.
- she cut out her daughter, from whom she had been estranged for a number of years, due to her opinion of her daughter’s lifestyle choices
- the majority of the estate was left to charities
- the daughter had a family but both she and her partner were on benefits and the family, including children, were living in difficult financial conditions.
Claiming financial dependency – risky tactics and cost implications
In many litigation situations, a claimant will claim the absolute maximum possible. This is a typical negotiation ploy but can be risky and backfire. the claimant in this case claimed most of the estate, based on arguing that she ought to be given money to buy a house and to create an income. At first instance the Judge disagreed with this. He determined, not surprisingly, that the claimant was in financial need (was dependent) and clearly she had a close enough relationship, in terms of family circumstance. The claimant was awarded a lump sum of £50,000.00.
The claimant appealed, and this raises 2 noteworthy implications :-
- litigation generally and appeals, are very expensive. With legal aid increasingly unavailable, the claimant was risking the amount she had already been awarded, in terms of legal costs of pursuing an appeal.
- with an appeal, it is likely the opponent will cross appeal, further increasing the risks – in this case the charity beneficiaries cross appealed claiming that the entire claim should fail.
What happened in the case ?
The appeal was rejected and the order made by the Judge at first instance ratified. The lower court Judge had not erred in deciding that a sum of £50,000.00 ought to produce a small income per year for then claimant to assist her dependency. It was not unreasonable for the lower court Judge to reject the argument that reasonable provision ought to include safeguarding the claimant’s long term housing needs.
This case demonstrates the complex balancing act for a Judge in Inheritance Act claims. A number of different considerations are specifically included within the Act which need to be applied to the circumstances. The case also perhaps illustrates that the lower Court Judge may have taken into account the fact that the Claimant tried to argue her case on the basis of a maximum, rather than perhaps a more modest amount, somewhere between what she was awarded and her bets case scenario.
If you need advice on an Inheritance dependency claim, whether you have been excluded from a will or are an executor or beneficiary potentially impacted by a dependency claim, or legal advice generally on probate please do get in touch with me.
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