The High Court of England and Wales has upheld a claim by a cohabitant of 42 years under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for reasonable financial provision, despite her being expressly written out of the deceased’s final will. We discuss the case (Thompson v Ragget & Ors [2018] EWHC 688) below.

Background

Joan Thompson (the “Claimant“) cohabited with Wynford Hodge (the “Deceased“) for 42 years prior to his death. The Deceased provided for the Claimant in all wills made during the period of their cohabitation, until the final one, executed on 19 December 2016. This final will expressly excluded the Claimant and her children as beneficiaries of the Deceased’s £1.5 million estate. It was accompanied by an express letter of wishes signed by the Deceased in which he explained his reasons for excluding the Claimant, stating:

In my Will I have specifically made no provision for my partner, Joan Thompson and her children, Gary, Lee, Dean and Sharon. I currently have no contact with Joan’s children. I have no issue with Gary, but I have concerns regarding Lee, Dean and Sharon and do not trust them. I feel that they have previously taken advantage of me and have already received/taken monies from me during my lifetime. I do not want Joan or her children to inherit from my estate.”

The Deceased, who was the Claimant’s primary carer at the time of his death, also stated that the Claimant had sufficient sums of her own to maintain herself, and in any event would require a care home, being unable to live in their home unassisted.

Judgment

His Honour Judge Jarman QC had no trouble concluding that the Claimant was entitled to “such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for her to receive for her maintenance“. The Deceased and the Claimant had lived together as a couple for 42 years prior to his death. Throughout that time the Claimant was financially dependent on the Deceased. HHJ Jarman QC therefore held that she was entitled to reasonable provision, whether as a cohabitee or a dependent.

Interestingly the Claimant’s entitlement was unaffected by the Deceased’s distrust of the Claimant’s children and his express wish to “disinherit” her as explained in his letter of wishes. The Court held that the Deceased’s:

predominant motive appears to be that he did not want any of his assets to fall into the hands of her children, and again that is not a sufficient reason for leaving her without any provision.”

The Court concluded that the Deceased was right in his letter of wishes to acknowledge his caring responsibilities, but that his assertion that the Claimant was unable to live independently and had sufficient finances was unjustified. The savings the Claimant had were found to be insufficient and therefore the Deceased’s justifications unfounded.

The remaining questions for the Court were what provision was reasonable, and what form this provision should take. HHJ Jarman QC took account of various factors including the Claimant’s modest savings, expert evidence on an appropriate care package, medical evidence evaluating the Claimant’s needs and oral evidence from the Claimant herself.

The Judge accepted that the Claimant had specific accommodation needs. When turning to what form this would take, the question was whether the cottage that was purchased by the Deceased for his and the Claimant’s retirement should be transferred to the Claimant. The other option was for the Court to confer on the Claimant a life interest in the cottage with power to advance capital, if needed. On balance, he held that given the long period of cohabitation and the fact that one of the Claimant’s children would be providing care at the cottage for the Claimant, she should receive the cottage outright.

On the question of other financial provision for the Claimant’s needs, including adaptions required to the cottage and her ongoing maintenance, HHJ Jarman QC held that £160,000 alongside the capital transfer of the cottage was sufficient.

Comment

This case demonstrates that even by an express letter of wishes a testator cannot prevent cohabitants or dependents from bringing successful claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.