What is an Inheritance Act Claim?
Many people are under the misapprehension that the length and commitment of a relationship will grant rights akin to those in marriage. Stuart Duncan, a family lawyer, explains why this is not actually the case and the options open to family and dependants who want to make an Inheritance Act claim.
Where an individual has died without making proper provision in their Will for their relatives or dependants, judges have a wide discretion to redistribute assets to produce a fair result.
The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 aims to make further financial provision for those who:
- have not inherited as a result of intestacy (where there is no Will)
- have been left out of a Will entirely
- have not been left as much as they need
Only certain people are entitled to make an Inheritance Act claim. Broadly speaking, these are the immediate family of the deceased or their partner if they were living together as husband and wife (or as civil partners).
A surviving spouse or civil partner can apply for such financial provision as is reasonable in all the circumstances, whether or not that provision is required for his or her maintenance.
Everyone else is limited to such reasonable financial provision as is necessary for their maintenance, insofar as the estate can provide it.
The time limit for making a claim is usually six months from the date on which representation (Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration) is taken out and so it is very important to act quickly.
There has been an increase in recent years of Inheritance Act claims.
Earlier this year the court awarded Ms Joy Williams, a half share in her deceased partner’s house. Ms Williams had lived with Mr Norman Martin, for nearly 20 years and they had bought a property together in Dorset in 2009.
The problem was that Mr Martin had never formally divorced from his wife, nor had made a Will leaving his share of the Dorset property to Ms Williams. Mr Martin’s share in the property automatically passed to Mrs Martin on his death.
Ms Williams made an Inheritance Act claim and the Judge found that Ms Williams and Mr Martin had in ‘all material aspects’ lived as husband and wife. He therefore decided that Ms Williams should be entitled to Mr Martin’s share of the property as well as her own share.
Whilst justice was done in the end, it would have been much less risky, expensive and time-consuming to clarify matters before Mr Martin died.
Many people are still under the misapprehension that the length and commitment of a relationship will grant rights akin to those in a marriage but this is not actually the case. If you are in a cohabiting relationship, then the best way to protect your partner is to enter into a living together agreement, hold your property as joint tenants, and/or ensure you make a Will, clearly setting out your wishes on death, in order to avoid the situation that Ms Williams found herself in.
If you are involved in a dispute over a Will or need advice on preparing one, it is important to get advice as soon as possible.