I(PFD)A Dependency Claims Update

Two recent dependency claims involved a claim by the testator’s long-term partner and, in the second case, the death of a claimant. We look at how the court approached the issues in both cases.

Long-term partner’s dependency claim
In Martin v Williams[1], a widow successfully appealed an award that was made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependents) Act 1975 (I(PFD)A) in favour of the testator’s partner, with whom he had lived for many years.

The widow and the testator were married when the testator died, though they had been living apart for a long time. The testator left his residuary estate to his widow under the terms of his will, and his long-term partner made a dependency claim under the I(PFD)A.

The testator and his partner co-owned a property as tenants in common in equal shares and the testator’s share would have automatically passed to his widow on his death. However, the trial judge transferred it to the partner and the widow appealed.

The widow appealed on various grounds, including that the trial judge was wrong to conclude that the partner fell within s1(1)(ba), and that his finding that the testator maintained her for the purposes of the Act was unstainable on the evidence. Furthermore, she argued that the judge’s conclusions as to the extent of the partner’s financial needs were unsupported by the evidence, and/or contradicted by her own evidence; and he had wrongly disregarded the partner’s interest in another asset as one available to meet her needs.

In the High Court, Smith J set out the statutory requirements under the 1975 Act, and said three questions must be determined by the court:

• Does the claimant have standing to apply to court under s2? This requires a claimant to fall into a class of person set out in section 1(1) of the Act
• Has the deceased's estate made reasonable financial provision for the claimant's maintenance?
• If the court is satisfied that reasonable financial provision has not been made, it must consider what provision should be made. This is where the due exercise of discretion comes in

He commented that the matters to which a court should have regard when determining the second and third questions may overlap or even duplicate - but they are very different questions.

The court ruled that the trial judge did not have sufficient grounds to exclude the other property from consideration. The existence of a sibling’s life interest in the property was not good enough reason.

The court also found that the trial judge had not been entitled to express scepticism as to the truth of the partner’s evidence of her means, without cross-examination on the issue. He had, therefore, wrongly and without justification understated the partner’s financial position and overstated the widow’s - concluding that she was in less financial need than the facts warranted.

The outcome was that the court vested in the partner a life interest only in T’s 50% share of the property, with the reversion and all other rights to vest in the widow.

Death of claimant

In Laurel Marilyn Roberts & Ors v Luanne Fresco[2], one of the claimants had brought a claim for reasonable provision on behalf of her deceased father. The estate in question was her mother’s £16m estate, out of which she only left her husband a small legacy. He died a few months after his wife, but had he survived to make a claim – his claim would have been significant.

However, following established High Court authority, the court ruled that a claim for financial provision out of an estate under the I(PDF)A does not survive the applicant’s death. The rationale is that a right to bring such a claim is not a cause of action unless an order for financial provision is handed down by the Court before the applicant's death.

The claimants’ argument that to not allow the claim to be made, breached her deceased father’s HRA rights under article 1 (to peaceful enjoyment of his possession ie. his reasonable expectation of succeeding in his 1975 Act claim) was rejected. The court said Article 1 is only engaged when the applicant is a "legal and natural" person. The testator’s late husband was deceased – and his estate was not a natural or legal person. His claim did not survive his death.

[1]Martin v Williams [2017] EWHC 491
[2]Laurel Marilyn Roberts & Ors v Luanne Fresco [2017] EWHC 283

 

 

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