Don’t Let Your Heart Rule Your Head; Defending an Estate in a Will Dispute
When a loved one dies and you find out that someone is bringing a claim against their estate, emotions can run high. If a bereaved adult child is faced with a dispute with a step-parent (or a deceased parent’s partner), there might already be a difficult relationship.
It can be enormously upsetting to find that your parent has made a will and that it’s being challenged by a surviving partner. Very few people are aware that the law has allowed a will to be challenged on the basis that it’s perceived as being unfair, since 1938. The relevant legislation now is the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. It allows certain individuals to bring a claim against a deceased’s estate if they believe that it fails to make “reasonable financial provision” for them.
The recent case of Taylor v Redmond & others  contained some salutary lessons for those defending an estate from an Inheritance Act claim.
Carole Taylor had cohabited with James Redmond, for 7 years before his death in October 2014. They lived together in a one bedroomed flat. James’ net estate came to £900,000 and his will made no provision for her. Carole was eligible to bring a claim under the Inheritance Act as she had lived with James. She was 70 years old, had no property and limited income/savings.
James’ two daughters lied to Carole, telling her that she had to move out of the flat, that it had to be sold and this was something they had no control over as they did not benefit under the will. In fact the truth was that they were the only beneficiaries. When she brought a claim, they fought her, arguing that she was only a lodger and that their father had numerous other relationships with other women.
The daughters changed their evidence during the trial. It was clear that the judge preferred Carole’s evidence to that of the daughters. The judge awarded Carole a lump sum of £145,000 and a life interest in a property to be bought by the estate for £180,000. The daughters had to pay all of Carole’s legal costs, as well as their own.
The case is a reminder that however difficult the relationship between the beneficiaries of an estate and a claimant under the Inheritance Act, it’s enormously important to look at the claimant’s case objectively. If the claimant has a valid claim, it should be settled, not litigated.
Spurious claims can and should be fought – but it’s often difficult for the deceased’s family to distinguish between the two, which is why expert legal advice is essential early on.
Sarah Young is a Partner at Ridley & Hall based in the Huddersfield office but has clients all over the country. She specialises in Contentious Probate law. If you require legal help or advice, get in touch with Sarah on 01484 538 421.