An Inheritance Act claim is pursued under a piece of legislation called the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975.
What does that mean?
It means that so long as you fall within a category of claimants that are entitled to bring a claim against an estate and you can show that it was unreasonable for the deceased’s Will (or intestate estate) not to make provision for you (or that it was unreasonable for you to receive the amount that you did i.e. you deserved more) then the Court has the power to entirely re-distribute the deceased’s estate to make provision for you and do what is just.
So does that mean that I could get the whole estate?
Yes in theory it does. The Court is obligated to consider a number of factors under the legislation- these are called the section 3 factors and they are outlined in more detail below- when deciding whether what you receive under the Will (or Intestacy) was unreasonable and if it decides it was unreasonable how much you should get instead. This could result in the whole estate coming to you plus your legal costs being paid by the beneficiaries who defended your claim all the way to trial (so that the legal costs don’t eat into your inheritance).
So what are the Section 3 Factors?
• Section 3(1)(a) Your Financial Needs and Resources- i.e. whether you have a need for provision from the estate. This is not only limited to what you currently need to cover any deficit between your outgoings and income but also factors in any future financial needs you may have, particularly if you have young dependant children, a disabled child or you are disabled yourself (see further on this below).
• Section 3(1)(b) The Financial Needs and Resources of Another Claimant- this is rarely relevant but the Court will weigh your needs against those of any other person who seeks to bring an Inheritance Act claim against the estate.
• Section 3(1)(c) The Financial Needs and Resources of the Defendants (i.e. the Beneficiaries)- this will only be taken into account by the Court if the Defendants plead that they are in financial need. If they don’t because, for example, they have good jobs or savings/investments etc. then this factor will weigh in your favour.
• Section 3(1)(d) &(g) Any obligation or responsibility that the Deceased owed to any party and any relevant conduct (of the Deceased or the parties)- these factors are often considered together by the Court and they focus on any promises which the deceased made to provide for you, any financial dependency you had upon the deceased providing for you and any natural relationship which gives rise to an obligation/responsibility for the deceased to provide for you (e.g. spouses have natural obligations to provide for each other as does a parent to a minor child).
• Section 3(1)(e) The Size and Nature of the Estate- this is where the Court considers if the estate is large enough to make provision for you (as well as the beneficiaries if they deem that necessary) and whether the estate is comprised of assets which are capable of making an award in your favour (i.e. is there a house which a beneficiary lives in and which would need to be sold in order to pay you an award).
• Section 3(1)(f) Any Physical or Mental Disabilities of the Parties- this is where the Court will consider any disabilities (whether physical or mental) of any of the parties which impact their ability to improve their financial position in the future.
The Court will weigh up each factor deciding whether it is in your favour or the defendants and if they weigh the factors in your favour overall then an award will be made. The Court will then reconsider your financial position, including future financial needs, when calculating what the award should be and it has a wide discretion as to how much this can be and in what form so long as (for non-spousal claimants) it meets the maintenance standard- i.e. what is required for your maintenance now and into the future. This could be a lump sum or a periodical payment (like maintenance).
In order to achieve a clean break the Court will often order that you have a lump sum and as you will have won your case you will then be entitled to your costs on top of that award either payable from the remainder of the estate after payment of your award or payable from the defendants personally so as not to decrease your inheritance award.
Who Can Make a Claim Under the Act?
There are 6 categories of claimant under the Inheritance Act, as follows:-
- A Spouse / Civil Partner - In particular, spouses should bear in mind that the Court will adopt an even more lenient approach to valuing their claim than for other claimants because they are not limited to what is required for their maintenance and the Court will award you what it considers reasonable in all the circumstances. The starting point is often HALF OF THE ESTATE for spouses, as it is on divorce, but can be considerably more as on death there is only “one mouth to feed” rather than two on divorce. Recent changes in the law has also made it clear that the provision which a spouse could have expected on divorce should not be considered an upper or lower limit.
- A Former Spouse - who has not remarried
- A Co-Habiting Partner - this is defined as someone who had been in a romantic relationship with the deceased and who had been living with them in the same household for at least the 2 years immediately preceding the death. The definitions of a romantic relationship and living in the same household have been interpreted widely by the Court to include non-sexual relationships and households which comprise more than one property with partners sharing their time between more than one property or spending part of their week apart.
- A Child - whether adult or minor
- A Child of the Family - this includes a Step-Child but also those treated as a child of the family who are not Step-Children, such as grandchildren raised as the child of the family of their grandparents, and due to recent changes in the law it also now includes step-children from marriages which had ended at the time of death and single step parent families)
- A Financial Dependant - this is someone who doesn’t fall into any of the above categories and who was being financially maintained by the deceased.
We Can Help
At MW, our mission is "To make quality legal services accessible to everyone", including those who feel that they have been left out of a Will. Our specialist Team of Inheritance Dispute Solicitors have experience dealing with all aspects of inheritance disputes and are here to give you the legal advice you deserve.
If you are unsure of which category you qualify under or if you are in any doubt regarding any aspect of an inheritance claim call us today on 0203 551 8500 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a FREE CASE REVIEW.