Court refuses wife permission to claim part of husband’s estate

25 January, 2018

In July 2016, Mary Sargeant applied for permission to bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 against her husband’s estate.

Mary had been married to Joe for 45 years before his death in 2005. Joe’s Will left his guns and fishing equipment to his estranged son Jeff, a life policy and personal possessions to Mary and the rest of his

estate to a discretionary trust. Mary, their daughter Jane and Jane’s offspring were trust beneficiaries. A letter of wishes indicated Mary should benefit from the assets for her lifetime.  

Unfortunately, the income from the assets wasn’t enough for Mary’s living costs, leading to disagreements between Jane and Mary and ultimately Mary’s claim.

This type of inheritance claim is not unusual – family members and dependants who do not believe they have been properly provided for have a right to seek greater provision under the Act.

However, claims under the Act must be made within six months of probate being granted – after that period, the court’s permission is needed. In deciding whether to permit a claim to proceed out of time, the court will consider several factors, including strength of claim, the period of time lapsed, the cause of delay and whether it is just and reasonable to allow a late claim.

Mary’s claim was in 2016 – 11 years after Joe’s death, which is a very substantial delay. In asking for permission to proceed, Mary explained that the time delay was because she had misunderstood the trust (believing she partly owned assets) and had only recently taken independent legal advice.

The High Court refused permission finding that, whilst the claim had merit, the time lapsed was Mary’s responsibility and was not justified. Mary had been encouraged to seek independent legal advice in intervening years and it was likely Mary understood the trust as she had lived and resolved financial difficulties within the trust’s perimeter previously. Finally, allowing a claim would be unjust as Jane had managed trust assets in anticipation that she and her family would inherit them.

Please contact Philip Youdan or to discuss potential Inheritance Act claims.