On 12 February 2016, the Central London County Court dismissed a claim for financial provision brought by the spouse of the deceased under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. It is thought that this may be the first time that a claim by a widow for reasonable financial provision has been dismissed at trial.
The Deceased, Ian Wooldridge, left the matrimonial home, worth approximately £4.25million, and the benefit of his life insurance policies, worth in the region of £1.6millon, to his wife Thandi Wooldridge. He left the remainder of his estate, being his business interests, to his children (Mrs Wooldridge's step-children).
Mrs Wooldridge brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 ("the Inheritance Act") for further financial provision from the estate, claiming that she required a further approximately £372,000 per year to meet the standard of living to which she had become accustomed. This included a claim for £65,000 for holidays, £21,500 for "going out" and £155,000 for purchasing a Bentley.
The Judge dismissed the claim. She found that Mrs Wooldridge had had enough from the estate and had "not established that the Will failed to provide her with sufficient financial provision to meet her needs". The Judge noted that the budget provided by Mrs Wooldridge was more of a "wish list" than an assessment of her needs.
What does this mean?
This case is interesting as it is commonly presumed by practitioners that when a spouse applies for further financial provision under the Inheritance Act, there is likely to be an award of some sort. This is because spouses are entitled to claim a higher standard of financial provision than mere maintenance. Provision for a spouse would be "such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case, whether or not that provision is required for his or her maintenance". In such claims, the courts also often consider what the applicant might have received if the parties were instead divorcing, with an expectation that the starting point is around 50%.
While this case is perhaps unusual, it is a clear reminder that every claim under the Inheritance Act (including claims by surviving spouses) will be decided on the facts and circumstances of the case, and fundamentally with regard to the factors set out at Section 3 of the Inheritance Act.