Inheritance Act Claims
Increasing numbers of family members or dependants who have been left out of a will, or who did not receive as much as they had hoped, are bringing claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the “Act”) for financial provision. The number of claims made under the Act during the last 10 years has increased tenfold.
Families today come in all different shapes and sizes and perhaps this could be the reason behind the increase in the number of claims. More people are reliant on inheriting monies under a will, no matter how distant or estranged their relationship with the deceased may have been. We are encouraged to make a will for this very reason; to document exactly what happens to our assets when we die, because the intestacy rules do not factor in modern family structures and can result in certain dependants being left out, such as step children, civil partners, dependants from previous marriages or cohabitation arrangements.
You may ask then is the point in making a will to document your wishes if they can be overruled by the Court? Even if you have become estranged from a relative and express that you do not want them to inherit under your will, the court could still decide that you have a legal obligation to provide for them, and grant them a lump sum payment or regular income as maintenance from your estate.
The rationale behind the Act is to assist those who have been left out of a will or have not been left enough to provide reasonable financial provision. Such a claim will also provide for the loved ones of those who died intestate; (i.e. without a will). The Act requires the individual to demonstrate that the deceased had a duty to maintain them. There is a 6 month time limit from the date of the grant of probate (or letter of administration where there is no will) to bring a claim for financial provision.
Lady Hale highlighted the ‘inability for individuals to decide themselves what happens to their estate when they pass’ in a high-profile Supreme Court decision in March 2017. In the case of Ilot v The Blue Cross and Others, Mrs Jackson and her daughter were estranged for over 39 years before Mrs Jackson died. Mrs Jackson made it clear in her will that she would not be leaving anything to her daughter when she died, and instead requested that her £486,000 estate be divided between three animal charities. Mrs Jackson’s estranged daughter brought a claim under the Act and was granted a lump sum maintenance payment of £50,000 at first instance. The judgment was heavily criticised when Ms Jackson’s daughter then appealed for more money and was granted a sum of £163,000 by the Court of Appeal. In light of this decision, it is likely that the courts will adopt a more consistent approach when dealing with inheritance act claims.
We have a wealth of experience in dealing with inheritance, wills and trust disputes such as claims under the Inheritance Act. We act for estates who need to defend a claim under the Act, so contact any member of our team if you have concerns about a potential dispute. If you want advice on how best to draft your will to avoid a dispute after your death, our wills specialists will be able to help you.