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When a person dies, their estate is distributed under the Rules of Intestacy if they die without a Will, or in accordance with their final, valid Will. However the person’s estate is distributed, in some cases, an excluded beneficiary may feel that they have been wronged; they may not have received what was promised to them, or what they expected to. Our Probate Solicitors in Preston discuss the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, and how a claim can be made if you feel you have not been sufficiently provided for in someone’s Will. 

The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 

Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, certain classes of people can make a claim against an estate, if they feel they were not sufficiently provided for in the deceased’s Will, or under the Rules of Intestacy. 

Who can make a claim against an estate? 

Under section 1 of the 1975 act, the classes of people who can make a claim against an estate include: 
A spouse or civil partner. 
A former spouse or civil partner, providing that they have not entered into a Consent Order upon their divorce. 
A cohabitee of the deceased, who lived with them as if they were spouses or civil partners for at least two years prior to the death. 
Biological and adopted children of the deceased, and those who have been treated as if they were a child of the deceased (for example, stepchildren, in some circumstances). 
A person who was financially maintained by the deceased. 
If “reasonable financial provision” was not made for a person who falls into one of the categories above, they could make a claim against the deceased’s estate. Although it is important to note that it depends on the circumstances of the case, as to whether someone classifies as being able to make a claim. 

What is “Reasonable Financial Provision”? 

Reasonable financial provision could mean that someone has left you enough money to meet your needs, which would only apply if you were financially dependent on the person who died. This does not necessarily just mean the minimum amount required to meet your financial needs, but the Court could also take into account your daily living expenses, if you have a disability, the value of the deceased’s estate, the financial needs of other beneficiaries, and the total value of the estate. There may also be other factors that the Court needs to consider, depending on the case. 
The concept of “Reasonable Financial Provision”, as explained above, could depend on who is making the claim against the estate and what their own personal means are. In the case of Beg v Beg, 2021 EWHC 2598 Ch, the High Court awarded Mrs Beg, the widow, £80,000 from her brother-in-law’s inheritance. 
Mr and Mrs Beg resided in a property which was owned by the Mr Beg and his brother, the same having been inherited from their mother’s estate in 2009. Upon his death in 2019, Mr Beg left his entire estate to his wife. It was unclear whether Mr Beg and his brother, however, held their property as beneficial Tenants in Common or as beneficial Joint Tenants. 
The deceased’s brother contended that the property was held by them under a beneficial joint tenancy, meaning he would automatically inherit the whole property through the rule of survivorship. The deceased’s wife argued that the brothers owned the property as beneficial tenants in common so she would inherit her husband’s share of the property under his Will. If this argument failed, Mrs Beg bought a claim under the Inheritance Act to argue that her husband’s share of the property should be brought back into his estate and should be transferred to her by way of reasonable financial provision under the Act. 
Ultimately, Cooke HHJ decided that the property was held by the brothers as beneficial joint tenants, and thus Mr Beg’s share of the property passed to his brother under survivorship. 
However, in respect of Mrs Beg’s claim under the Inheritance Act, Cooke HHJ considered that Mr Beg intended to provide for his wife by ensuring she had a home to reside in. Due to Mrs Beg’s financial circumstances, she could not afford to repay the mortgage on her husband’s rental property and this was therefore not a viable home for her to reside in. Cooke HHJ ordered that Mr Beg’s interest was bought back into his estate to the value of £80,000. Mrs Beg could therefore redeem the mortgage against her husband’s rental property, and live in the same, mortgage-free. 
This judgement demonstrates the Court’s broad scope of powers to make provision from an estate under the Inheritance Act. 

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The case of Miles v Shearer is a notable English inheritance dispute that reached the Court of Appeal. It concerns an unsuccessful claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 by two adult daughters against their late father's estate. 
In summary, the claimants, the daughters, argued that their late father’s will did not make reasonable financial provision for them. They were both adults and financially independent at the time of their father's death. The father's estate was left mostly to their stepmother. The key issues at hand were the daughters' financial needs and expectations, and whether the will failed to make adequate provision for them as required by the Act. 
The High Court initially heard the case, and the daughters' claim was dismissed. They then appealed to the Court of Appeal. The appeals court upheld the High Court's decision, finding that the daughters had not demonstrated a need for such provision from their father's estate, considering their independent financial situations and the absence of any special circumstances that would make such provision necessary. 
The case of Miles v Shearer reinforces the principle that adult children who are capable of maintaining themselves may not necessarily be entitled to an inheritance from their parents, especially in the absence of special circumstances that would warrant such provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This decision has been seen as a reinforcement of testamentary freedom in England and Wales, emphasising that Wills should be upheld according to the deceased's wishes unless there is a compelling reason under the law to alter the distribution of their estate. 
Before making a claim against an estate, you should seek expert advice from a Contentious Probate Solicitor to find out what kind of provision you could expect to receive. 

How to make an Inheritance Act Claim against an estate 

You should always seek expert legal advice from a Contentious Probate Solicitor to see whether you are eligible to make a claim against someone’s estate. It is important that you seek expert legal advice as you need to ensure that you are aware of any cost implications of making a claim. 

Time Limits for Making a Claim under the Inheritance Act 

You have 6 months from the date Probate, whether that be a Grant of Probate (if the deceased left a Will) or Letters of Administration (if the deceased did not leave a Will), to make a claim against an estate under the Inheritance Act. 
The time limit is quite strict, and it is therefore important to seek legal advice from a Contentious Probate Solicitor as quickly as possible if you feel that you could make a claim against an estate. 
The time limit can only be extended in limited circumstances, decided on a case-by-case basis. 

Who covers the cost of the claim? 

The answer to this question could depend on which party is successful in the claim. A recent case highlighted the issue of costs. Tom Goodwin died in November 2018 with an estate worth between £3-£4 million. Under his Will, the deceased’s son was appointed as the executor. His daughter, Jacqueline Avison, alleged that the new Will had not been executed properly, was unduly influenced by the deceased’s son and his girlfriend, and that the testator, Mr Goodwin, had not been fully aware of the contents of the Will. 
In the claim, Mrs Avison was joined by her four children. Mrs Avison and her family were set to benefit significantly more under a previous 2005 Will. The matter progressed to a trial in August 2020, with the Avison’s ceasing their challenge of the validity of the Will on the basis of incorrect execution, pursuing the other two claims. 
On day six of the trial, the Judge was told that the Avison family no longer challenged the Will, so the matter proceeded to a costs hearing. Each of the Avison family attempted to avoid an adverse order for costs. They believed it had been reasonable for them to raise the issue of incorrect execution prior to receiving the expert’s handwriting report, and that the other two challenges had been raised due to the deceased’s conduct. 
The Judge, Davis-White HHJ, outlined the two probate specific costs principles for claimants to bear in mind when making a claim against an estate, namely that there is a case for costs to be deducted from the estate if the deceased’s conduct caused the litigation and that if a party has reasonable grounds for disputing a Will, each side should bear their own costs. In this case, Davis-White HHJ ordered that the Avison family had to bear both their own and the other party’s costs, as none of the issues could be said to have been caused by the deceased, and he did not believe they had reasonable grounds for challenging the Will. You can find the full case, here
So, what does this mean if you are considering making a claim against an estate? You should carefully consider the costs implications and decide whether making a claim is worth the risk of how much you may need to pay in costs if you are unsuccessful. Contentious Probate Solicitors should be able to discuss this with you and help you to weigh up the risks of making a claim. 

How can MG Legal’s Probate Solicitors in Preston help? 

Our team specialise in the preparation of Wills and the administration of non-contentious estates. If you want to make a Will excluding someone who could be entitled to make a claim, seek expert legal advice. If your loved one has died and you need to administer their estate, contact our Probate Solicitors on 01772 783314. 
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