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Following Ilott, What Adult Child Claimants Can Expect
Nahajec v Fowle is the first reported case since the Ilott v Mitson judgment earlier this year and has, perhaps unsurprisingly, a very similar outcome.
In this case, the daughter had been estranged from her father for many years due to her choice of partner. Miss Nahajec lived indistressed financial circumstances and the deceased made no provision for the daughter, leaving the entirety of his estate to a non-family beneficiary.
In Nahajec, the estate was relatively modest, at around £265,000. Of the three children, two made claims. One was settled for £22,000.
Adult children do not have any automatic right to inherit from their parents estates and so, Miss Nahajec was required to prove that her father’s will did not make reasonable provision for her maintenance.
The Court has to consider specific matters of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The Court has to consider the financial needs and resources which the applicant has or is likely to have; the financial resources and need of any beneficiary of the Estate has or is likely to have; and any obligations and responsibilities which the deceased had towards any applicant
Adult children are unlikely to have successful claims if they are of sufficient means however, that is not to say that poor financial circumstances is the only factor in a successful claim. This is because the Court could determine that a “reasonable provision” could be nothing taking all the other factors into account.
Miss Nahajec’s evidence of her financial needs and resources was that she worked part-time, averaging 23 hours per week as a retail assistant (on a zero hours contract) and 9 hours per week at a veterinary clinic. She also worked a further 10-15 hours per week at the veterinary clinic because she wanted to train as a veterinary nurse. She had a significant amount of debt as a result of having been diagnosed with cancer (which was in remission by the time of the trial).
In contrast to Miss Nahajec, the sole beneficiary, a Mr Fowle, earned approximately £2,000 per month running a plastering company. Mr Fowle’s finances were complicated because it appeared he continuously mixed his own personal money with that of the company. He had also spent £13,000 on his wedding and £18,000 on two Rolex watches, after he was aware of Miss Nahajec’s claim.
After hearing Miss Nahajec’s evidence and that of her brother Scott (who was the only child not making a claim), the Judge found that the estrangement between Miss Nahajec and the deceased was the deceased’s own doing. Miss Nahajec had made attempts to reconnect with her father after her mother died in 2007, and they stayed in some contact for nearly 3 years. However, the communications stopped and Miss Nahejec’s further attempts to reconnect with her father were rebuffed by him. This gave the Judge the discretion to challenge the contents of the Will. It had been clear by the Deceased’s letter of wishes that he had thought about his children when making his will and chose not to make provision for them but this was only a “factor to go into balance” and Miss Nahajec could not be said to be of “sufficiently independent means”.
The Judge concluded that the Will did not make reasonable provision for Miss Nahajec and awarded her £30,000 which would enable her to pay off some of her debts and pursue training as a veterinary nurse.
These types of cases tell us that although a parent may not wish to make any provision for their child or children, a letter of wishes is just one of many factors to be taken into account by a Court when deciding what provision, if any, should have been made for an adult child and cannot displace the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.