Wellesley v Wellesley (2019): an unsuccessful Inheritance Act claim

Contest a Will dispute

A recent claim made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 has provided food for thought on a number of points that can arise in such cases.

The claim was made by Tara Wellesley against the estate of her father, the 7th Earl Cowley.

In his Will, the father left Ms Wellesley £20,000. The rest of his estate was divided as follows:

  • A discretionary trust of his chattels for the benefit of remoter family members and unspecified charities;
  • The residuary estate to be divided between his son the 8th Earl Cowley, and four of the Deceased’s five step-daughters, subject to a life interest to his late wife.

At the time of his death, Ms Wellesley had been estranged from her father for 35 years. However, she argued that £20,000 was not ‘reasonable financial provision’ for her ‘maintenance’ (adult children are limited to claiming for maintenance only; in contrast with spouses and civil partners who may claim as if it were a divorce settlement).

Faced with such a claim, the Court must take into account the factors at Section 3 of the Inheritance Act. These include the financial resources and financial needs of the applicant now and in the future; together with the financial resources and needs of the other beneficiaries. In addition they include the size of the estate, the Deceased’s obligations towards each party involved, whether any parties had a physical or mental disability; and any other relevant matter including the conduct of the parties.

Ms Wellesley argued the following in relation to these factors:

  • She was completely reliant on state benefits;
  • She was unemployed and not able to work due to her mental disability;
  • Her expenditure far exceeded her income;
  • She did not have secure accommodation and couldn’t afford to purchase her home for her and her son;
  • The sum she had been left was not proportionate to the size of the estate;
  • She had to care for her son, who had mental disabilities.

Ms Wellesley further submitted that the estrangement with her father was because she was forced out of the family at a young age by her father’s second wife. In addition, somewhat unusually, she put forward various human rights arguments in support of her claim.

Ms Wellesley argued that a reasonable approach to valuing the size of her claim would be 10 to 13 per cent of the net estate, in line with past cases (Ilott v The Blue Cross and others [2017] UK SC 17 and Nahajec v Fowle [2017] EW Misc 11 CC). She therefore asserted that she should receive £130,000 from her father’s estate.

The other beneficiaries argued that her past conduct which caused the estrangement outweighed any financial need she might have, and that £20,000 was reasonable financial provision.

Ms Wellesley’s claim was dismissed. Deputy Master Linwood took the view that the Claimant’s responsibility for the long estrangement, with no prospect of reconciliation, outweighed the other factors that went in her favour. He added that it was objectionably reasonable, taking into account the Section 3 factors, for her father not to have made further provision for her.

The judge came to this conclusion based on the fact that:

  • Ms Wellesley could live within her means, even though she was on state benefits.
  • There was no previous case law to support the notion that the Deceased was obliged to provide the Claimant with more to reducer her reliance on benefits.
  • There was no medical evidence to suggest that she could not work.
  • Although she did have a special need for occupational therapy, her father’s £20,000 legacy could fund this.
  • Her income in fact slightly exceeded her outgoings.
  • She did not in fact have any financial responsibility towards her son, who lived in a residential home.
  • Her son was not entitled to receive a settlement in any case (grandchildren are not qualifying applicants under the Inheritance Act unless they fall under the category of being treated as a child of the family or maintained by the Deceased immediately prior to their death).
  • She was solely at fault for the estrangement with her father, which resulted from her “disruptive behaviour” and a lifestyle of “drink, drugs and bohemia”.

Ms Wellesley’s suggestion that her legacy should be quantified as 10 – 13% of the estate based on past case law was incorrect. In Ilott the award was £50,000 of a £486,000 estate and in Nahajec, the Court awarded £30,000, about 11% of the estate (with his lordship noted the award to be within 1% of that of Ilott). However, Deputy Master Linwood rejected the idea that the quantification in these cases had created a rule.

“I accept…that the authorities relied on by [the Claimant] say no such thing as to applying a percentage of the net estate by way of quantification. Further, quantification is one part of the judicial exercise and over reliance on previous authorities must be avoided in view of the wholly different factual scenarios… The factual differences [between this case and Ilott] are substantial and using a percentage in such widely differing circumstances would be wholly inappropriate.” [50-51]

He also pointed out the substantial factual differences between the cases. In Ilott for example, the Deceased mother had chosen to disinherit her daughter in favour of three charities. Speaking of the current case, he said

“Here the Deceased left his estate of about £1,318,403 to his wife and children as opposed to Ilott where the deceased left the entirety of her estate of £486,000 to three charities she had no connection with.” [51]

This comment may be of some concern to charities as it reintroduces the concept that a charity might need to justify their need for provision or alternatively, that the reasonableness of the Deceased leaving their estate to three charities might be considered. The comment contrasts those made in the Ilott case where the judges noted that beneficiaries – whether charities or otherwise – did not need to defend their entitlement; instead, the claimant had to prove that they were entitled to greater provision. It suggests that in the present case, had the Deceased left the bulk of his estate to charity, a greater award might have been made which is at odds with Ilott.

Case reference: Wellesley v Wellesley & Ors [2019] EWHC 11 (Ch)

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