What makes for an “absolutely hopeless” claim against an Estate?
Since 2021, there has been a marked increase in Contentious Probate Claims noted by legal professionals practicing in this sector. It has been suggested that this trend stems from an unfounded belief that adult children are free to build up substantial debts, safe in the knowledge that they will be automatically amortised once inevitably in receipt of an inheritance from a parent’s Estate.
However, adult children do not enjoy an automatic right to entitlement under a parents’ Estate, whether under the Rules of Intestacy (particularly when there is a surviving spouse) or due to the freedom to make a Will in whatever terms the Testator wishes.
This point was emphasised in the recent case of Shapton v Seviour 2020.
Colin Seviour died on 8 August 2016, leaving his Wife, Maria Seviour, and two Children from his previous marriage; Carly and Chris.
Colin’s Will left his entire Estate (valued at £268,000) to Maria. Of this, £215,000 was represented by the matrimonial home, with a further £51,000 held in insurance policies.
Sadly, shortly after Colin’s death, Maria was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. She therefore undertook significant renovation work (approximately £25,000) to her home to make it more accessible due to her confinement to a wheelchair.
Maria’s prognosis at the time of the litigation starting was 18 months.
On 10 June 2019, shortly before the deadline to do so, Carly issued a Claim against her Father’s Estate for “reasonable financial provision” under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the 1975 Act”).
In support of her Claim, Carly stated that her family was struggling financially as they were relying upon her Husband’s sole income on account of her ongoing maternity leave. Her Husband earned £37,500 per annum, plus bonuses and a car on company lease. Due to the imminent arrival of their third child, Carly specifically petitioned the Court for support in purchasing a new property as the family had outgrown their three-bedroom semi-detached house.
Carly’s family had also accrued over £20,000 in credit card debt with no notable savings.
The 1975 Act is a piece of legislation which allows certain categories of persons, including Children, to bring a Claim against an Estate if they either aren’t provided for or aren’t provided for sufficiently under the terms of a Will or the Rules of Intestacy.
Under the Act, Carly wasn’t challenging the validity of the Will, but saying that she didn’t stand to benefit under it and ought to.
The Claim was for “reasonable financial provision” which is required for Carly’s maintenance. The Court approach this test on a case-by-case basis and take into account the following factors:
- The financial resources and needs that the Claimant has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
- The financial resources and needs that any Beneficiary of the Estate has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
- Any obligations and responsibilities the Deceased had towards either the Claimant or any
- Beneficiary the beneficiary;
- The size and nature of the Estate; and
- Any physical or mental disability of either the Claimant or the Beneficiary.
When delivering the judgement in this case, the Court emphasised that a key factor was that the Estate was objectively low in value, with the majority of its worth tied up in the property. The Court made it clear that, due to Maria’s debilitating health issues and recent renovations, to sell the Property in order to make provision for Carly would have had a severe and significant detrimental effect on Maria.
The Court also found that Carly and her family lived a “comfortable life”, that their substantial debts were of their own willing, informed creation, and that they had not demonstrated a clear financial need.
The asserted requirement of a larger house was similarly dismissed as this ‘need’ resulted from a voluntary decision to extend their family. In this respect the Court referred to the leading case of IIott v The Blue Cross and Others 2017, where the Supreme Court made it clear that “reasonable financial provision” does not extend to “any or every thing which it would be desirable for the claimant to have”.
Ultimately, the Court dismissed the Claim as being “absolutely hopeless” and indeed, the Court was notably condemnatory of Carly’s wrongfully held assumption of entitlement throughout the course of the Trial.
This case, and many others, corroborates the actuality that, although family members can make a Claim against an Estate, there is neither automatic nor guaranteed right of success; particularly when antecedent Beneficiaries have a compelling and cogent financial need.
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If you have been notified of someone wanting to contest a Will that you are either administering or benefit from, then please contact our Contested Wills, Trusts and Estates Team on 01823 625841.
We handle a variety of disputes and issues surrounding Wills and Estates. We offer high-quality, cost-effective legal advice on such matters, with flexible funding arrangements such as Deferred Funding Arrangements and Conditional Fee Agreements (i.e. No-Win, No-Fee arrangements) being available.