The recent case of Miles v Shearer shows the difficulties that adult children may face when making an Inheritance Act claim, even where the estate is substantial.
A person with capacity in England and Wales enjoys testamentary freedom to leave their estate to whomever they wish in their Will. They may therefore choose not to include family members such as adult children.
However, under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 an adult child may be eligible to bring a claim against the estate on the basis that the Will (or intestacy) fails to provide reasonable financial provision for their maintenance. If such a claim is successful, the court may redistribute the estate.
Following the high profile case of Ilott v Mitson it was thought there would be a rise in claims by adult children after the Claimant in that case was awarded approximately 10% of their parent’s estate. However, recent cases show this is not necessarily a rule of thumb.
One example is the case of Miles v Shearer where a claim was brought by two adult daughters (aged 39 and 40) against their late father’s estate. The defendant was the deceased’s second wife who had received the majority of his estate whilst he made no provision for his daughters.
The deceased had made gifts of over £175,000 to both daughters in 2008 and later wrote to his daughters to say they should not expect any further financial assistance from him either during his life or in his Will.
As in all these cases the Judge had to consider a number of factors including the needs and resources of all the parties, any obligations and responsibilities the deceased had towards any applicant or beneficiary and the size and nature of the estate.
The Judge cited an earlier case which stated “the court must have regard to the nature and quality of the lifestyle previously enjoyed by the applicant and the deceased”. However, on these facts it was concluded that “whilst the claimants may well have enjoyed an affluent lifestyle until they were in their early twenties … they were not entitled to expect that standard of living indefinitely”. It was suggested the daughters could adjust their lifestyle if necessary to meet their needs. Further, neither daughter was being maintained by their father for some years prior to his death. Therefore the Judge found that the Will had not failed to make such financial provision as would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the claimants to receive for their maintenance.
Despite the estate passing under the Will being around £2.2 million the claim was dismissed. The Claimants may appeal this decision.
However, this case shows that, given the number of factors that a court considers in these matters, each case will be dependent on its facts.
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