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23 July 2016

I’ve been disinherited! –Claims under the Inheritance Act

When people learn of the contents of a will they may be disappointed. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the Inheritance Act) may assist these disappointed beneficiaries. You might also find yourself facing a claim from a disappointed beneficiary.

The Inheritance Act allows certain groups of people to make a claim against an estate if they can show that the deceased did not make ‘reasonable provision’ for them in the will.

People eligible to make a claim

Six groups of people may make a claim under the Inheritance Act:

  1. spouses and civil partners;
  2. children (including adult children);
  3. someone who lived with the deceased for two years immediately prior to death;
  4. someone ‘treated by the deceased as a child of the marriage’;
  5. someone being ‘maintained by the deceased’; and
  6. ex-spouses and ex-civil partners, under certain circumstances.

Claims brought by people in categories 5 and 6 may give rise to more complicated factual issues.

A claim under the Inheritance Act should be issued within six months after the ‘grant of representation’, which is the formal document issued by the Probate Registry that allows the executor to pay the deceased’s debts and distribute the deceased’s assets.

Approach

A Court will ask two questions in looking at a claim under the Inheritance Act. Does the will (or the ‘laws of intestacy’ if there is no will) make ‘reasonable financial provision’ for the person bringing the claim? If not, what provision should be made?

In weighing these questions, the Court will look at various factors including the financial needs and resources of the person bringing the claim, the needs and resources of the beneficiaries under the will, the needs and resources of anyone else making a claim, the size of the estate, any beneficiaries’ disabilities, and any other matter the Court thinks is relevant. This is a fact-specific approach: each case is different and requires expert advice.

Claims under the Inheritance Act

These claims can involve a great deal of emotion and the Court will do a thorough analysis of all the parties’ financial needs and resources. As a result, whether you are bringing or defending a claim under the Inheritance Act, ensuring your case is as strong as possible will require a good deal of homework.

Finally, while most claims settle out of Court, in recent years a number of these claims have ended up in Court. For example, Ilott v Mitson is a claim involving an estranged daughter who was disinherited by her mother in favour of three charities; the Supreme Court finally resolved the claim after ten years of litigation, so you do need to be prepared, if necessary, to take a claim to trial.

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