When a person dies, it takes some time to deal with their estate and this can cause financial hardship to those around them. Where there is a dispute over an estate, it will inevitably take even longer to release funds. This can be devastating to someone who was financially reliant on the deceased because they may suddenly find themselves without enough money to pay the bills.
If someone is bringing or contemplating a claim under the Inheritance Act, there are two things which might help in this situation.
Firstly, since 2014 it has been possible to start an Inheritance Act claim before there is a Grant of Probate. If the executors are taking their time (possibly deliberately in an attempt to head off any potential claim), then the Claimant can proceed anyway. However, once the proceedings have started, they will continue at the usual speed and so can take some time to reach a conclusion.
Secondly, it is possible under s5 of the Inheritance Act for a Claimant to make an application for interim maintenance from the estate (for example to cover bills). The Court has the power to award such sum or sums for financial assistance as it considers to be reasonable. (Whilst this does not appear to include the provision of property, it is not unusual for the executors to agree that someone remains in a property whilst their claim is determined particularly where they have a very strong claim).
In order to make an application for interim maintenance, and Claimant must:
- Have made an application for an order under the Act (in practice, the main claim and the application for interim maintenance can be made together);
- Have a need for immediate financial assistance from the estate.
There must also be sufficient assets in the estate to pay any interim maintenance which is ordered. However, the personal representatives will not be liable if they pay pursuant to an order and then later discover that there is not as much money as they thought and not enough to continue paying/to pay other debts (unless at the time of making the payments the personal representatives had reason to believe that there would not have been enough).
In order to succeed in an application, the Claimant must have a strong claim and the Judge will consider the merits of the claim when deciding whether to award interim maintenance. The Court can put conditions on any maintenance awarded (for example to specify what it must be spent on) and will usually order that it is paid on account of any future award. However, it is very rare to find that the Claimant is ordered to repay interim maintenance in the event that the claim is ultimately lost.