The Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 (‘the 1975 Act’) allows certain categories of claimant to bring a claim against an estate where 'reasonable financial provision' has not been made for them. The most successful applicants are usually the deceased's spouse or minor child where there is often no argument that the deceased should have financially provided for them. However, other individuals do have standing to bring a claim, such as cohabitees.
In Lewis v Warner , Mr Warner issued a claim against the estate of his partner of 20 years, Mrs Blackwell. They never married but he had lived with her in her property for 20 years. As Mr Warner was considerably older than Mrs Blackwell the parties expected for Mrs Blackwell to outlive Mr Warner. Accordingly there was no discussion as to what would happen to Mr Warner upon Mrs Blackwell’s death.
Mrs Blackwell died intestate, accordingly leaving her entire estate to her only child, Mrs Lewis. Mrs Lewis wanted to sell the property with vacant possession and asked Mr Warner to move out. Mr Warner was financially independent; in fact he had far more money than Mrs Blackwell had during her lifetime. Mr Warner was financially able to purchase an alternative property to live in but wanted to stay in his home of the last 20 years, which were reportedly the happiest of his life. Mr Warner was 91 and in poor health. His neighbour was a doctor who checked on him on a regular basis. Additionally the property was situated in a village where Mr Warner had lived for his whole life, including the house in which he was born, his previous business and a convenience shop were within walking distance. As a result the judge concluded that forcing Mr Warner to move ‘should be avoided if at all possible.’
The court, at first instance, ordered that the property be transferred to Mr Warner in exchange for payment of £385,000. (The property had been valued at £340,000). Mrs Lewis appealed.
The Court of Appeal had to consider two questions:
Was the original judge correct to conclude that the deceased’s Will did not make reasonable financial provision for Mr Warner?
The Court of Appeal held that that 'maintenance' could extend to the provision of a house for a claimant to live in. The judge had found that as Mrs Blackwell had been providing a home for Mr Warner, he was being maintained by her and he needed that maintenance (at that particular property) to continue as opposed to moving house.
Was the judge entitled to make the order that he made?
The issue was whether an order requiring the estate to transfer the property to Mr Warner at full value could be regarded as maintenance. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision. It may have been an unusual order but this was a case where Mr Warner’s needs were for a specific property, and the precise financial value of the property was less important to him than the value of the property itself.
This is the first time the Court of Appeal considered the case of a cohabitee under the 1975 Act. However, it goes further as it highlights the range of orders that a court can make under the 1975 Act.
The court took the view that the transfer of a property for (greater than) full value could amount to reasonable financial provision for maintenance. The Act specifically uses the word ‘financial’, but the court held that what a party needs for maintenance is not necessarily purely a financial need which can be met by way of an award of capital or income.