In the latest high profile case relating to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (1975 Act) a 79 year old lady, Joan Thompson, advanced a claim against her late partner, Wynford Hodge's, estate. Mr Hodge’s estate was worth in the region of £1.5m.
Ms Thompson and Mr Hodge had been in a loving relationship for 42 years in which they lived together as man and wife, however, critically, they never actually married. Mr Hodge left his entire estate to two tenants of his farm, Ms Evans and Mr Berisha. In his will he stated the following:
"I no longer want to leave my residuary estate on trust to pay the income to Joan for her life as this would be a substantial sum and I do not believe she will need it. Also due to Joan’s health I believe she would not be able to live in my property independently. I am Joan’s main carer and envisage she may have to go in to a home following my death. I confirm Joan has her own finances and is financially comfortable. Joan has her own money and her own savings.”
Unfortunately, Mr Hodge was mistaken, Ms Thompson had very limited means a little more than £2,000 to her name and she considered that she was more than capable of living independently.
Upon hearing Ms Thompson’s claim the court held that she was entitled to “such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the applicant to receive for [her] maintenance” and awarded her a cottage worth £225,000, a modest sum to cover renovation costs and £160,000 for future maintenance and care. In total the court awarded Ms Thompson approximately £415,000 equating to 27.6% of the estate.
By contrast, had Ms Thompson been Mr Hodge’s wife she may have fared altogether better. This is because a different standard of provision applies to surviving spouses/civil partners. A surviving spouse (civil partner) is entitled to such provision as is reasonable in all the circumstances, whether or not such provision is required for his or her maintenance. Any other applicant i.e. a cohabitee, is only entitled to such provision as is necessary for his or her maintenance. It is likely that if Ms Thompson had married Mr Hodge, that she would have received at least half of his Estate, if not all of it.