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Court allows for claim to be brought after the applicant is out of time.

In a recent case before the High Court, the Applicant, Ms Julie Colbourne, has been granted permission to bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the Inheritance Act), despite being out of time due to an error made by her solicitors.

What happened?

Ms Julie Colbourne wished to bring a claim against her late mother’s estate after her mother changed her Will in favour of her new wife whom she married only 18 days prior to her death. The late Mrs Collier-White, (the Applicant’s mother), had been married to the late Mr Colbourne for 55 years before he died in April 2018. At the time of his death, they had mirror wills which left all of their possessions to the other and then, upon their death, to their only daughter, Ms Colbourne.

Ms Colbourne was 56 years old at the time of bringing the claim, did not own her own property and worked as a manager of a pub where she lived. Ms Colbourne had always placed high reliance on the assurances from her late parents that she would be inheriting the family home upon their deaths. She also had a son, her parents’ only grandchild, which her parents often assisted her, financially, in his upbringing.

In July 2018, three months after her father’s death, Ms Colbourne’s late mother became engaged to Mr Colbourne’s carer, Ms Tracey Collier-White (the respondent) who was 33 years younger. In September 2018, she changed her Will to leave everything to Tracey Collier-White (the New Will) and they married in December 2018. The late Mrs Collier-White then died on 11 January 2019.

Ms Colbourne wanted to pursue a claim under the Inheritance Act for reasonable financial provision from her mother’s estate. However, due to an error caused by her solicitors’ case management systems, she missed the limitation deadline of six months from the date of the grant of probate. As such, Ms Colbourne made an application to the court to be allowed to bring the claim out of time.

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What was decided?

Ms Colbourne’s and Tracey Collier-White’s solicitors had been in correspondence since February 2019 and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) had been under consideration throughout. It was clear to the Court that they were aware that a claim under the Inheritance Act was Ms Colbourne’s intention should negotiations fail. In further support of this, they had assumed protective proceedings had already been brought in light of the limitation deadlines.

It was argued that Ms Colbourne should instead be pursuing a negligence claim against her solicitors for their error instead of being granted additional time to challenge the New Will. However, it was determined by the Judge that to rely on such an argument did not allow the reason for such a challenge to be addressed against the respondent instead transferring the burden to the solicitors in respect of a possible loss of chance claim. As any prejudice against Tracey Collier-White was purely formal in respect of being granted security from being challenged, and the estate had not yet been distributed, this transfer was not considered to be in the interests of justice under the Inheritance Act and thus was rejected by the Court.

In conclusion

In light of the circumstances, the application to proceed out of time was successful and Ms Colbourne was granted permission to bring a late claim under the Inheritance Act. This case highlights the importance of the limitation period, of acting promptly and of making your intentions clear should a possible challenge be in consideration. Read the full case here.

If you think you may be eligible to make a claim against the estate of a loved one, you have concerns or would like to find out more, please contact any of our inheritance dispute lawyers as soon as possible. Acting fast could put you in the best position you can should a challenge need to be made.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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