How To Make A Claim Under The Inheritance Act 1975

How To Make A Claim Under The Inheritance Act 1975

The recent release of Prince Harry’s autobiography, Spare, illustrates just how fractious family relationships can be.

Although most families would be hard pressed to match the Windsor in both wealth and the occasional rancour towards each other, when it comes to money and inheritances, claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (Inheritance Act 1975) can demonstrate that each unhappy family is indeed “unhappy in its own way”.

Take the recent appeal of the 2022 case of Fennessy v Turner & anr [2022] WTLR 1295. The matter concerned a mother (Hazel Fennessy), her two children, Heidi and Patrick, the latter being the Claimant, and a Mrs Turner.

Hazel and Heidi lived together and were extremely close throughout their lives, and some would say even in death, as Heidi pre-deceased her mother by a mere six weeks. Heidi had a reputation for being difficult with certain family members for no apparent reason.

Patrick, who had seven children, worked as a coalman and an HGV driver, and at some point ran the family coal-merchant company. He was told that he would inherit ‘everything’ once Hazel and Heidi died, and this created a sense of expectation. He was a dutiful son who stayed connected with his mother and brought presents for her on her birthdays and Christmas.

Hazel left a Will, dated 24 January 2012. Under the terms of the Will, she left her whole estate to Heidi, and appointed Heidi as sole executrix, and further provided that if Heidi predeceased her the whole of the estate was left to Mrs Turner and that she was appointed sole executrix.

Patrick brought a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975. He was awarded just over £195,000 from the £360,371.63 estate and this decision was upheld on appeal. Below, we set out the grounds for making a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975, using the case of Fennessy v Turner & anr to illustrate how the right to claim and the Court’s decision-making process operates in practice.

What is the Inheritance Act 1975?

The Inheritance Act 1975 allows for certain people to claim reasonable financial provision from an estate if the Testator did not do so under their Will. For example, Patrick was Hazel’s son and he was completely cut out of his mother’s Will. Therefore, he was able to claim under the Inheritance Act 1975.

Aside from the children of the deceased, the following people are able to bring an Inheritance Act 1975 claim:

  • The spouse or civil partner of the deceased;
  • The former spouse or civil partner of the deceased, provided they have not remarried or engaged in a new civil partnership (however, the terms of a divorce often bar an ex-spouse from making a claim);
  • Anyone who, for the two years before the death, was in a cohabiting relationship with the deceased;
  • Anyone who was not the child of the deceased but as a result of a marriage (in which the deceased participated), the former was treated as a child of the family by the deceased, i.e a step-child;
  • Anyone who does not fall in the above categories but was being maintained by the deceased (partly or wholly) immediately before the deceased died.

All claims under the Inheritance Act 1975 must be made within six months of the issue of the Grant of Representation although the Court does have the discretion to extend this time limit, in specific circumstances.

What is ‘reasonable financial provision’ under the Inheritance Act 1975?

The first question asked by Solicitors (as most cases are settled out of court) and the Court in all Inheritance Act 1975 claims is “has the deceased’s estate made reasonable and financial provision for the class of the potential applicant by the standard applicable to that applicant?”. It is for you, as the Claimant, to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that this is not the case.

When looking at whether ‘reasonable financial provision’ has been made, the Court will apply an objective test. Whether or not the deceased was morally right to leave their estate to whom they chose to do so is not a matter for the Court to decide . Instead, it will examine:

  • The financial needs and resources of the Claimant and the Beneficiaries under the Will, both now and in the near future.
  • The size of the estate and what it contains.
  • Any physical or mental health concerns relating to the Claimant or the Beneficiaries.
  • The nature of the obligations the deceased had to both the Claimant and the Beneficiaries.

The Court will also consider certain matters depending on the status of the Claimant. For example, if a spouse brings a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975, their age and contribution to the family’s welfare, and the duration of the marriage will be analysed. In addition, the Court will consider what the Claimant would have received had the marriage ended because of divorce rather than death.

In the case of a child of the deceased, their current and future education or training requirements will be considered.

Returning to Patrick, he was able to show real financial need, given that he lived in a motorhome and had meagre savings. In addition, due to a disability, he could only work part-time. He needed adequate accommodation. On the other side, Mrs Turner, the Beneficiary, did not have any immediate or foreseeable financial needs and had enough existing resources. Furthermore, Hazel had no obligations to Mrs Turner.

The £195,000 award made to Patrick included reasonable financial provision to cover his income deficit, housing need, furniture, and white goods. It also provided for his Solicitors success fee payable under a No Win, No Fee agreement.

Wrapping up

Claiming under the Inheritance Act 1975 does carry risk in the form of having to pay the other side’s costs if you lose, however, this can be dealt with by taking out After The Event Insurance. It is imperative that you instruct a Contentious Probate Solicitor who is experienced in bringing claims under the Inheritance Act 1975 as not only will they advise on prospects of success, but they will also have the expertise required to increase the chances of an out of court settlement, thereby saving you considerable time and stress.

Our team has decades of combined experience in successfully advising and representing clients who are challenging a Will or making a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975. We are sympathetic, understanding, and are here to help you every step of the way.


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