Claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
by Zaid Anwar
Inheritance Act claims (“IA claims”) are a useful legal mechanism which allow a specified category of persons to claim from a deceased person’s estate.
IA claims are typically required where an individual has not been left anything in a person’s will, or feels that the legacy they have received is insufficient.
Before going into a little more detail, it should be noted that IA claims are not easy to prove. In fact, IA claims are widely known for their difficulty to be detailed appropriately.
The threshold is set higher than simply suggesting you have not been left adequate provision by the deceased’s estate.
What is the purpose of the Inheritance Act 1975?
The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (‘the Act’) allows a limited category of persons to make a claim on a deceased person’s estate.
A surviving spouse or civil partner is entitled to financial provision from the deceased’s estate, which is reasonable in all the circumstances. It is not necessary for a surviving spouse or civil partner to show that financial provision is required for their maintenance.
Any other category of person claiming under the Inheritance Act is entitled to such reasonable financial provision as is necessary for their maintenance, as long as the estate can provide it.
Who can apply?
The Inheritance Act, at section 1(1)(a)-(e), sets out the categories of people who are eligible to apply, namely:
- the spouse or civil partner of the deceased;
- the former spouse or civil partner of the deceased (as long as that person has not remarried/entered into a later civil partnership);
- any cohabitee who was living with the deceased as husband and wife, or as civil partners, for a continuous two-year period immediately prior to the deceased’s death;
- a child of the deceased;
- a person who was treated as a child by the deceased; and
- any other person who was being maintained by the deceased prior to their death.
Generally, any other persons save for spouses and civil partners, will be required to show that they were maintained by the deceased. Maintenance, in this context, is financial support, whether directly or indirectly.
It is imperative to note that IA claims have a strict limitation period. Applicants must start a court claim within 6 months of a grant of probate or letters of administration being issued. If this time period has passed, in exceptional and limited circumstances, the Court may allow an IA claim to be considered but this cannot be guaranteed.
What are the court’s considerations?
The court will consider three key questions:
- Does the will or intestacy make reasonable financial provision for the applicant?
- If not, should the court intervene so as to award further provision from the estate?
- If so, what type of provision is appropriate?
The question of reasonableness varies and is contingent on which category of persons is applying.
For instance, reasonable provision for a spouse will certainly differ from an adult dependant child. A spouse or civil partner of the deceased is not required to evidence maintenance.
For all applicants, the Inheritance Act specifies certain factors which the court must give consideration to:
- the current (and future) financial resources and needs of the applicant;
- any obligations and responsibilities which the deceased had towards the applicant and any other beneficiaries;
- the size and nature of the estate;
- any physical or mental disability of the applicant or any other beneficiaries; and
- any other matter which the court may consider relevant.
In the case of a spouse or civil partner, the court may also consider what the parties would have received in the event that the marriage or civil partnership was terminated by divorce or dissolution rather than death.
What is the court able to do?
The court has a wide discretion when it comes to IA claims. There is no specific set of financial guidelines the court must follow. Each case is largely determined on its merit.
The court may award a lump sum be paid to the applicant, either for a particular purchase (i.e. a home) or for general use. Alternatively, the court may order that small amounts are to be paid regularly to the applicant.
Example case study
An example is one of a surviving spouse who finds themselves in a situation where a Will was left behind however the Will leaves no financial provision for them. In these circumstances, if the Will comes into force, the surviving spouse may be forced to leave their home and may be left with no monetary inheritance.
It is in situations like these that advice around making an IA will be given. They could consider making an IA claim, within 6 months from the grant of probate, which may provide them with financial provision or even a property to live in.
If you find yourself in this situation, then I would strongly recommend you contact a solicitor or a trained professional to guide you through the process.
Another common example is children of the Deceased. If you are a child and have been excluded from the Will then I would strongly recommend you consider making a claim.
Finally, another common enquiry that we receive are from people who are dependants of the Deceased – whether you are from the Deceased’s extended family or simply a friend, you may also potentially have a claim.
In all the above situations, I would strongly suggest you get in contact with a solicitor or legal advisor so you are better rehearsed on your legal position and ability to bring a IA claim.
The above are all, obviously, subject to independent assessment which is why it is important that you seek the same.
This is a very specialist and technical area of law. We are experts in this field and can act for either applicants, beneficiaries or the executors of estates which are contested in this way. Given the tight timeframe, if you consider you have not been left reasonable provision on someone’s death, contact us at the earliest opportunity to discuss your circumstances.
Zaid Anwar is a Solicitor in our Dispute Resolution department who offers a free initial conversation to new clients. In your free initial conversation with Zaid, you will be able to discuss your matter with him. If you receive a letter of claim and wish to consult a solicitor, talk to our team on 01494 773377 or [email protected]
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