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Wills – dependency claim

A widow successfully appealed an award under the I(PFD)A which was made in favour of the testator’ long-term partner (P). The High Court ordered that a life interest in the testator’s half share of property was to vest in the widow (W).

In this case, W appealed the transfer of T’s beneficial interest in their jointly owned property to P who had made a dependency claim on the basis that T’s will did not make reasonable financial provision for his partner under s2(1) I(PFD)A.

W and T were married at the time of his death, but had lived separately for a long time. Under the terms of his will, he left his residuary estate to W. T and P had lived together for many years and owned a property as tenants in common in equal shares. T’s share would normally have passed automatically to W, but following P’s dependency claim, the trial judge transferred T’s 50% share in the property to P.

W appealed on six grounds:

the trial judge was wrong to conclude that P fell within s1(1)(ba);

the trial judge’s finding that T ‘maintained’ P within the meaning of s1(1)(e) was unsustainable on the evidence;

the trial judge’s conclusions as to the extent of P’s financial needs were unsupported by any proper/admissible evidence and/or were contradicted by her own evidence;

the relief granted to P was substantially above what was necessary;

the trial judge wrongly disregarded P’s interest in another property as an asset available to P to meet her needs; and

The trial judge wrongly dismissed W’s evidence as to her financial needs in circumstances in which her evidence was not challenged during cross-examination.

In his judgment, Smith J summarised the requirements of the 1975 Act: three questions must be asked by the court:

Does the claimant have standing to apply under s2? This requires a claimant to fall into a category or class of person set out in s1(1) of the Act.

Has the deceased’s estate made reasonable financial provision for the claimant’s maintenance?

If not, what provision should be made?

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

In addition, the trial judge had not been entitled to express scepticism as to the truth of P’s evidence of her means in the absence of cross-examination on the issue. He had, therefore, wrongly and without justification understated P’s financial position and overstated that of W – concluding that she was in less financial need than the facts warranted. Therefore, the relief granted was in excess of what was necessary.

The court therefore vested in P a life interest in T’s 50% share of the property, with all other rights (specifically the reversion of that interest) to vest in W. This prevents W from seeking to sell the property over P’s head, but does not involve the excessive provision of transferring the half share outright to her. Martin v Williams [2017] EWHC 491 (Ch). Source: www.familylawhub.co.uk.

 

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