Successful adult child claims under the Inheritance Act
22nd August, 2022
A person with capacity in England and Wales has testamentary freedom to leave their estate to whomever they wish in their Will.
As a consequence of this we often see family members, such as adult children, excluded from their parent or step-parent’s Wills for various reasons.
Where this happens the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the “Act“) includes provisions for eligible adult children or ‘children of the family’ (for example step-children) to bring a claim against the estate on the basis that the Will fails to provide reasonable financial provision for their maintenance.
What the Court will consider
The Court will consider the financial need of the applicant with reference to the applicant’s current lifestyle and any foreseeable future need, including retirement. It was long thought that there was some need for a ‘moral claim’ in adult child claims, arising in the case of Re Coventry where the Court of Appeal held that it was not enough for an applicant to simply show financial need. The applicant was required to demonstrate something more to persuade the Court that it was unreasonable that greater provision was not made for them in their parent’s Will.
This was broadened by the UK Supreme Court in the case of Ilott v Mitson where Lord Hughes stated that a moral claim is not an essential condition for all applications under the Act but there is a need for the applicant to prove something more than merely a qualifying relationship, or an ‘extra factor’.
Ward Hadaway have recently assisted in a number of successful adult child claims, securing settlement for our clients through pre-action negotiation and mediation without having to incur the significant costs of taking the matter through the Court.
Although we have set out in broad terms two recent cases studies below, these cases are very fact sensitive and each set of facts needs to be considered on an individual case by case basis.
Recent Case Studies
Case Study 1
The Claimants in this matter were estranged from their father (the “Deceased“) for over 50 years following their parents’ divorce.
The Claimants re-established a relationship with the Deceased during the final year of his life, regularly visiting and contacting the Deceased via telephone, and providing him with emotional and practical support. After his death, a close friend of the Deceased told the Claimants that their father had been determined to change his Will to include them both, but had failed to do so during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Deceased had avoided attending his solicitor’s office to avoid unnecessary exposure to the Covid-19 virus.
Both Claimants established financial need in that they had no savings and no amount for contingencies, and were both entitled to a basic state pension only. The ‘extra factor’ in this matter hung on the fact that the Claimants had no control over the estrangement as they were both children at the time of their parents’ divorce, and both had rebuilt their relationship with their father in the months leading up to his death. It was the Deceased’s express wish to change his Will to include the Claimants and he would have done so if not for his fear of contracting Covid-19.
Settlement was reached by way of a lump-sum offer to each of the Claimants.
Case Study 2
In this case the Claimant had grown up in a blended family with their mother, biological sibling, step-father (the “Deceased“), and their step-father’s children. The Claimant’s mother and step-father signed mirror Wills each leaving their entire estate to their surviving spouse, or in the alternative, to be split equally amongst the children. The Claimant’s mother died prior to the Deceased with her entire estate passing to the Deceased on the understanding that all of the children would be taken care of in equal parts when the Deceased died.
After the Claimant’s mother had passed, the Deceased prepared a new Will leaving only a small pecuniary amount to the Claimant and the residuary estate to his biological children.
The Claimant had been treated as a ‘child of the family’ and had been provided with their home, holidays, food and financial support by the Deceased as any father would. The Claimant was therefore an eligible claimant under the Act.
The Claimant’s financial need was based on their future need in retirement. As a resident in Australia the Claimant would be reliant on investment in their individual pension fund alongside a state pension, which we were able to show would not maintain the Claimant. The Claimant had relied on promises made by the Deceased when managing financial affairs and had not therefore maximised their pension contributions.
The ‘extra factor’ in this case came down to the fact that the Claimant’s mother had passed her entire estate to the Deceased in the belief that all of the children would receive equal parts of the Deceased’s estate on his passing. It was also revealed that the Deceased had changed his Will on the misinformation that the Claimant had received a large sum from her biological father’s estate, which was incorrect.
The claim was settled in a pre-action mediation that took place remotely between the Claimant in Australia and the Defendants in the UK.
How we can help
An application under the Act must be made within 6 months of the date of the Grant of Probate, therefore if you think you may be eligible to make a claim or would like to find out more, please contact one of our specialist Will dispute lawyers
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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