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Inheritance Act Success For Unmarried Woman Against Partner’s Estate
Ms Thompson and Mr Hodge had lived together as a couple for some 42 years prior to Mr Hodge’s death. During the relationship, Ms Thompson was financially dependent on Mr Hodge and as a co-habitee, she was entitled to bring an Inheritance Act claim that Mr Hodge’s last will did not make reasonable financial provision for her.
In a letter of wishes, Mr Hodge specifically stated that he made no provision for Ms Thompson stating:
“I no longer want to leave my residuary estate on trust to pay the income to Joan for her life as this would be a substantial sum and I do not believe she will need it…”
Mr Hodge also stated that due to Ms Thompson’s poor health, she would not be able to reside in their shared home after his death and may have to go into a care home and believed that she had her own savings and wouldn’t need to benefit from his estate. Mr Hodge was also concerned that Ms Thompson’s children did not inherit from his estate.
The year before Mr Hodge died, he purchased a cottage with the intention they would move into it together. Unfortunately, later that year, Mr Hodge suffered complications from cancer and was admitted to hospital. When Ms Thompson visited him, he assured her that she would be well taken care of. Mr Hodge was discharged but returned to hospital shortly afterwards and passed away.
Ms Thompson’s GP believed that Ms Thompson did not require nursing home care and could return to her home if she had a social care package to assist with some of her needs. Ms Thompson wanted to reside at the Cottage or another property Mr Hodge owned and to have her son and daughter-in-law reside with her to help look after her. She had a small amount of savings, approximately £2,500, and the only income she received were state benefit and disability living allowance totalling just over £1,100 per month.
Mr Hodge’s estate was valued for probate purposes as being £1.5m, comprising of several properties, farm machinery, a caravan park and some liquid assets. The beneficiaries under Mr Hodge’s Will argued that Ms Thompson at most, should receive a life interest in the estate and receive an income with the beneficiaries managing the estate and drawing a fair salary – thereafter the estate would revert to the beneficiaries. This was an offer previously put forward but declined by Ms Thompson.
Lawyers acting for Ms Thompson successfully argued that Ms Thompson should receive the Cottage by way of transfer as that was what the Cottage was purchased for. Mr Troup also argued for an award that would cover the costs to make the property suitable for Ms Thompson’s needs, annual costs of maintaining the Cottage and a suitable care package on the assumption that her son and daughter-in-law would be moving in with her.
The Court had regard to Ms Thompson’s needs and resources and the needs of the beneficiaries. The Court also considered the obligations and responsibilities Mr Hodge had towards Ms Thompson and the beneficiaries, and concluded that the disparity between the two was extensive. In fact, in Mr Hodge’s earlier wills (he had made 11 in total) he had recognised his financial obligations to Ms Thompson by making provision for her in them and at one point, the couple had made mutual wills leaving the residue of the estates to each other absolutely.
The Court awarded her the Cottage (by way of outright transfer) and a financial award to allow for maintenance of the Cottage, adaptations suitable for her needs, modest renovations and moving costs.
Martin Laver, partner, solicitor and a member of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists highlighted an interesting point in this case:
“Recent high profile cases have highlighted that it is no longer usually appropriate for the Court to order the transfer of a property to a Claimant as being “reasonable financial provision”. This case bucks that trend and keep alive claims of this sort which might otherwise have not been pursued”.
“Longevity of the relationship and the Claimant’s financial position are key factors in cases such as these but each claim will turn on their individual merits.”
If you require any assistance regarding a matter similar to this, then please do not hesitate to contact our experienced team of disputed wills solicitors on 01392 207 020.