Challenge to Will unsuccessful

Challenge to Will unsuccessful

The Supreme Court will hear one of the most controversial Will challenge cases in December this year, when they revisit Ilott v Mitson. But last month, another case highlighted that not all challenges under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act will be successful.

The case involved the Will of Michael Ames whose estate was worth £1.09 million. Michael died suddenly in 2013, leaving his entire estate to his 63 year old second wife Elaine. He left nothing to his 41 year old daughter Danielle. Danielle lived with her partner and their two children in a home in Enfield which they rented. According to her testimony, they survived on her partner’s income of £800 per month plus benefits.

Inheritance Act claims: Adult children

Under the terms of the Inheritance Act, adult children can challenge a Will where reasonable provision has not been made for them. For the claim to be successful, they need to demonstrate that the failure to make provision was unreasonable.

Such claims are assessed with reference to the criteria in Section 3 of the Act, which includes:

  • the financial resources and financial needs which the applicant has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
  • the financial resources and financial needs which any other applicant for an order under the Act has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
  • the financial resources and financial needs which any beneficiary of the estate of the deceased has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
  • any obligations and responsibilities which the deceased had towards any applicant for an order under the Act or towards any beneficiary of the estate of the deceased;
  • the size and nature of the net estate of the deceased;
  • any physical or mental disability of any applicant for an order under the Act or any beneficiary of the estate of the deceased;
  • any other matter, including the conduct of the applicant or any other person, which in the circumstances of the case the court may consider relevant.

The ruling

Danielle claimed £300,000 which she believed would be a ‘reasonable provision’ from her father’s estate. She also stated that he told her “It will all be yours one day.”

In hearing the case at Central London County Court, Judge David Halpern QC said she was ‘gilding the lily’ and exaggerating the strength of relationship with her father, who Danielle described as her best friend.

He called Danielle an “unreliable witness” who was “not above inventing or embellishing facts if she could see no other way of sticking to her story”, and preferred Elaine Ame’s evidence which indicated that Michael would have been “incandescent” with rage had he lived to see Danielle’s claim for his money.

The Court heard how during his lifetime Michael made his grandchildren work for their pocket money and how he had deliberately left his daughter with nothing because of his belief that grown up children should take care of themselves.

While Michael was alive, he helped his daughter set up a picture framing business in the 90s, but she gave the business up when she had children.

Relevant factors

In refusing Danielle’s claim, the judge highlighted a number of factors that were relevant to his decision. These included:

  • Danielle’s financial situation was at least in part due to the fact that she was unemployed, out of choice.
  • The Judge noted that Danielle had “…no disability and is fit for work”. By contrast, Elaine was past working age and it was apparent that she was not well.
  • Michael had discharged his obligations to Danielle during his lifetime by setting her up in business – it was her decision to give this up to have children. The Judge noted that her father had treated her generously through the years. By contrast, Elaine still needed to be supported by the estate.
  • If the Judge had granted Danielle the £300,000 she asked for, this would have eaten into the estate that had been left for Elaine which was required to meet Elaine’s ‘reasonable needs’. The main asset of the estate was the family home where Elaine lived in Woollens Brook, Hoddesdon worth £650,000. The estate also included a stake in a shop in Green Lanes, Enfield from which ‘Hond & Langer’, Michael’s well-known glazing business, continues to trade.

Judge Halpern noted: “I conclude that her lack of employment is a lifestyle choice. That alone is sufficient to defeat her claim.”

The approach regarding Danielle’s unemployment is consistent with a previous case, Re Dennis, in which Judge Brown-Wilkinson’s comments said of the Claimant:

Why should anyone else make provision for you if you are capable of maintaining yourself?

‘Crushing debts’

Danielle Ames said her disinheritance left her with ‘crushing debts’, with her outgoings exceeding her income by £2,000 a month. Following the decision, she was also faced with Elaine Ames’ legal costs of £85,000 on top of her own legal costs of £47,000.

Comparing Ames and Ilott

Although Danielle’s financial circumstances were not substantially different to those of Heather Ilott in Ilott v Mitson, there were some notable differences between the cases. These included firstly the identity of the opponent: in the Ilott case, this was three large charities, while in the Ames case, the opponent was a widow in need of support from the estate. The second notable difference was Judge Halpern’s assessment that Danielle’s father had discharged any obligations he had towards Danielle during her lifetime – while Heather Ilott’s mother arguably had not, refusing to reconcile with her estranged daughter.

Image credit: Bencherlite

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