In the recent case of Thompson v Ragget & Ors  EWHC 688 (Ch) the court had to assess the value of the claimant’s claim for financial provision. Somewhat unusually it was common ground between the parties that the deceased’s will had failed to provide reasonable financial provision for the claimant. However, the defendants disputed the value of the award being sought by her.
The facts of the case
The claimant, Joan Thompson (“Joan”) had cohabited with the deceased, Wynford Hodge (“Wynford”) for some 42 years by the time of his death in February 2017. By his last will, dated 19 December 2016, Wynford left his estate to Karla Evans and Agon Berisha (“the Beneficiaries”), tenants of one of his properties since early 2015. The will made no provision for Joan, Wynford stating in an accompanying letter of wishes that he had issues with 3 of Joan’s 4 children (from a previous relationship). He said he did not trust the children and felt they had already taken advantage of him. He also said that because of her health he did not believe Joan would be able to live unaided in his property following his death. She would therefore likely need to go into a home which, he said, she could fund from her own income and savings, Joan, having “her own finances” and being “financially comfortable”.
In fact, Joan was not financially comfortable. At the time of Wynford’s death, she had a modest amount of savings, some £2,500 and her only income comprised her state benefits of a little over £1,100 per month. Wynford’s estate which comprised various properties and land, as well as farm machinery and vehicle, was valued at just over £1.5m for probate purposes.
Assessment of claim
The court found that Joan was financially dependent upon Wynford at the time of his death. Accordingly, as a cohabitee, she was entitled to claim that his will did not make reasonable financial provision for her. As such, under section 1(2) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Act”) that meant such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for her to receive for her maintenance.
At the time of Wynford’s death, Joan was living temporarily in a care home following a serious fall. However, she wished to return to live in one of Wynford’s properties which she considered she would be able to do with help from one of her sons and his wife. She was supported in this regard by her GP and also independent expert evidence from an occupational therapist instructed by her solicitors. Joan therefore sought an order that one of the properties, Elidys Cottage (“the Cottage”) be transferred to her outright together with a capital sum to allow renovations to be made to the property to make it suitable for her to live in and a further capital sum to cover her ongoing living expenses including maintenance of the property.
The Beneficiaries, on the other hand, contended that if Joan was to be able to live in the Cottage then this should be on the basis of a life interest with the remainder of the estate being held on trust for her throughout her life to provide an income for her until her death when all the estate would then revert back to them.
The court considered it very important in this case for regard to be had to the obligations and responsibilities that Wynford had to Joan, the Beneficiaries and any other applicant. Wynford had made about 11 wills during the time that he and Joan had cohabited. In his earlier wills, he had recognised his financial obligations to Joan and had made provision for her. It appeared to the court that Wynford’s reasons for no longer providing for Joan were fuelled by a strong desire to ensure that none of his assets would fall into the hands of Joan’s children. This, said the court, was not a sufficient reason for leaving her without financial provision.
As against this, Wynford had assumed little, if any, financial provision for the Beneficiaries. They had carried out some unpaid errands for Wynford and extended some help in connection with refurbishment works at one of the properties for which Wynford paid but that was all. If there was any responsibility, the court considered it was very small.
In all the circumstances, the court made an award to Joan of £160,000 for renovation costs for the Cottage and ongoing living expenses. The Cottage was also transferred to Joan.
Whilst like any claims under the Act this award is fact-specific it does demonstrate how the court will balance parties’ respective interests and also make capital awards for a party’s maintenance if appropriate to do so.