What is an Inheritance Act Claim?
Posted on 13th December 2021
Our expert Probate Solicitors discuss making a claim under the Inheritance Act, who can make a claim, and how to make a claim against an Estate. Learn more here.
Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, certain classes of people can make a claim, if they feel they were not sufficiently provided for in the deceased’s Will, or if under the Rules of Intestacy (when someone has died without a valid Will) they have not received anything.
If any of the above applies to you, you should seek expert legal advice from a Contentious Probate Solicitor. Our team have answered some Frequently Asked Questions, below.
Who can make a claim against an estate?
Under section 1 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, the classes of people who can make a claim against an estate include:-
1. A spouse or civil partner.
2. A former spouse or civil partner, providing that they have not entered into a Consent Order upon their divorce.
3. 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.
4. Biological and adopted children of the deceased, and those who have been treated as if they were a child of the deceased (for example, step children).
5. 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.
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.
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 to make a claim against an estate 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.
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 Avisons 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: https://www.casemine.com/judgement/uk/6125cf842c94e06a089b70f9.
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. Your expert Contentious Probate Solicitors should be able to discuss this with you and help you to weigh up the risks of making a claim.
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