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HCR Law Events

10 January 2023

Fennessy v Turner: a landmark adult child case under the Inheritance Act

The Court of Appeal recently upheld the decision in Fennessy v Turner. The decision in this case serves as a stern and clear warning to those seeking to defend a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family Dependants) Act 1975.

Facts of the case  

  • The claimant, Mr Patrick Fennessy, was the only living child of Hazel Fennessy at the time of her death on 2 February 2020.
  • Under the terms of Hazel’s will, her entire estate was to pass to her friend, Mrs June Turner, who was also appointed as the sole executrix of Hazel’s estate. At the time of Hazel’s death, the estate was valued at approximately £360,371.63.
  • Mr Fennessy is 60 years of age and has a disability caused by osteoarthritis. Mr Fennessy claimed that his mother’s will did not make reasonable financial provisions for him. This was despite assurances from his mother that he would inherit “everything”.
  • Mrs Turner defended the claim in support of Hazel’s ‘testamentary freedom.’

Judgement

  • In the initial judgement earlier this year, Mr Fennessy was awarded £195,000 in his claim alongside his legal costs. It was determined that Mr Fennessy required financial assistance due to his “necessitous circumstances.” This includes his disability, low income and his need for more suitable accommodation. The Judge commented, “although Patrick is an adult son, I do not consider, in the light of his current resources and limited earning capacity, that he can presently be said to be capable of living independently…”
  • The defendant subsequently brought an appeal on five grounds which has since been dismissed by Fancourt J.
  • The Judge affirmed that testamentary freedom does not have higher significance than other factors. In this case, the size of the deceased’s estate allowed for an award to be made to Mr Fennessy and still left a substantial sum to be distributed to Mrs Turner in accordance with the terms of Hazel’s will.

Summary

The judgement in this case is a strong reminder to defendants that inheritance claims by adult child claimants should be handled with an abundance of caution. Each case is resolved on a case-by-case basis. Defendants should refrain from placing heavy reliance on the principle of ‘testamentary freedom’ particularly when the size of the deceased’s estate allows for an award to be made and the claimant has genuine circumstances for seeking financial assistance.

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About the Author
Beth King-Smith, Partner, Head of Disputed Wills, Trusts and Estates

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