Inheritance Act claims by estranged children


6th August 2021

Can lack of contact sever a parent's obligation to maintain their children from their Estate? We look at Inheritance Act claims by estranged children, focussing on the recent case of R (Deceased), Re [2021].

Facts

The Claimants were two sons of the Deceased, both of whom were under 18 at the time their claim was issued.

Their mother and the Deceased divorced in 2012 and both parents went on to have new partners. The Deceased paid child maintenance towards the Claimants however this liability ended in February 2013. In the Deceased’s 2013 Will he left the residue of his estate to the Claimants.

Later in 2013 the Claimants, their mother and her new partner relocated to Scotland. The Deceased applied to the family courts for a contact order and limited contact was awarded. However, at that time the Claimants reportedly had a negative attitude towards the Deceased and did not want to keep in touch. All direct contact between the Deceased and the Claimants ended during 2014. The costs of the Claimants’ maintenance, including private schooling, were subsequently met by their mother and her new partner only.

The Deceased sadly passed in October 2018 at the age of 41. The net value of the Deceased’s estate for probate was £813,836. However, despite this substantial value, in his 2018 Will the Deceased had made no provision for the Claimants. The Deceased made a statement the same day as his 2018 Will which said:

I do not wish for them to be a part of my family's life on my death and I believe that [the Claimants] do not require any financial provision.

Judgment

The court reiterated that a claim for financial provision from an Estate is limited to that which is reasonable for the claimants to receive for their maintenance.

The schedule of needs prepared for each Claimant (including schooling and university fees, living expenses, future housing costs etc.) were based upon their total maintenance needs all being met by the Deceased’s estate and totalled £811,949.99. The court rejected this argument, stating “it does not seem right that the entire maintenance obligation and responsibility should be shifted to the Deceased in consequence of his death”.

However, the court did find that overall the Deceased’s 2018 Will failed to make reasonable financial provision for the Claimants. The elder Claimant was awarded £68,022 and the younger Claimant £117,962.

As children of the Deceased, it was inappropriate to consider matters such as the Deceased’s assumed responsibility for, level of and duration of maintenance. The court stated that whilst “Lack of contact and the assumption of responsibility by another person are factors capable of impacting on the value of the claim”, that “only in the most exceptional circumstances would I expect the court to accept that the obligation to maintain has been completely severed”.

How can Blake Morgan help?

If you need advice in respect of Inheritance Act claims, or disputes regarding Wills and estates more generally, please contact Olivia Shenton-Taylor and Stephanie Walls.

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