By Angeline Teoh
A Will is a legal document that ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes after your death. However, if your Will is not handled properly, it may result in your spouse or close family members bringing a claim under the Inheritance Act (Provision for Family and Dependants) 1975 to seek a fair share of the estate if they are not named as beneficiaries in the Will. This means that even if you have made a Will, it may not fulfil your wishes as you intended.
In a recent case, Kaur v Estate of Karnail Singh & Ors  EWHC 304 (Fam), a surviving wife successfully brought a claim under the Inheritance Act (Provision for Family and Dependants) 1975 and was awarded 50% of the estate, despite not being named as a beneficiary in the Will.
This case shows how important it is to ensure that your will is professionally drafted to avoid situations where you cannot disinherit your spouse as was intended in this case.
Background to case
The case involved a wife and husband (deceased) who had been married for 66 years and had 6 surviving children, including 2 sons and 4 daughters when the husband passed away on 21 August 2021. In the husband’s Will, he left the whole estate to his two sons in equal shares. The reason was that he wanted his estate to be passed down solely through the male line, and the wife was not entitled to anything. However, the wife subsequently brought a claim and claimed the estate was worth £1.99m.
The wife was 83 years old, unemployed, had modest assets and disabled. During the marriage, the wife made a significant contribution to the marriage and the family business without receiving any salary. The wife was financially dependent on the husband, who had contributed to all family outgoings. Following the husband’s death, the wife moved out of the family home when one of her sons, with whom she had a strained relationship, moved in.
The Court had to decide whether the Will had failed to make reasonable financial provision for the wife and, if so, what the financial provision should be. The Court considered the factors set out in the Inheritance Act (Provision for Family and Dependants) 1975, including the wife’s financial resources and needs in the foreseeable future, the deceased’s obligation towards the wife, the physical and mental disability of the wife, the size and nature of the net estate of the deceased, as well as the age of the wife, the duration of the marriage, and her contribution to the family.
After considering all the factors, the Court held that reasonable provision had not been made for the wife. The Court concluded that after 66 years of marriage and full and equal contribution, it was clearly unfair for the wife to be left with nothing. If the case had proceeded to a divorce proceeding, the wife should have received more than 50%. It is unreasonable for the surviving spouse to be worse off as a widow than in a hypothetical divorce.
Therefore, the Court concluded that the wife should receive 50% of the net value of the estate, and the disposition of the estate affected by the Will be varied accordingly. The wife’s legal costs should also be paid from the estate and deducted from the gross value of the estate before division.
What can we learn from this case?
In conclusion, this case highlights that despite making a valid Will, the estate may not distribute purely according to the deceased’s wishes. This case also serves as a warning to anyone who wishes to make an impulsive and unfair decision as to the beneficiaries for their estate. Spouses who have contributed significantly for a significant number of years cannot simply be disinherited. It is also not a valid reason for the deceased to leave all the estate to the male line and disinherit the spouse or other dependents.
The judgment was clearly fair and reflected what the wife had contributed to the family. In fact, should the deceased have not died, the wife would have been able to apply for financial remedies to claim her entitlement to the family assets in a divorce proceeding. As the deceased was dead, such remedy was not available to her any longer. Her only choice was to make a claim under the Inheritance Act (Provision for Family and Dependants) 1975.
But not everyone can bring a claim
It should be noted that not everyone can bring a claim under Inheritance Act (Provision for Family and Dependants) 1975. The appropriate applicants include the spouse or civil partner of the deceased, the unmarried former spouse or former civil partner of the deceased, children of the deceased, and a person who was being maintained by the deceased. However, the effect of this legislation is that the testator will not be able to disregard the needs of someone who is dependent on him.
It is essential to have a professionally drafted Will that considers your finances and personal circumstances. This provides an opportunity to discuss your estate planning with your family and significantly reduces the likelihood of disputes arising after your death. Please contact us if you need help with your Will and we will be able to advise you based on your circumstances.
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