Posted by Calum Campbell, Senior Associate
Can estranged adult children claim against a Will?
After a landmark case was concluded earlier this year, many people assumed that Will dispute claims by adult children, particularly estranged ones, would be far more difficult to win, if not impossible. However it seems that this is not necessarily the case.
Back in March my colleague Mike Muston reported on the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision in Illot v Mitson. It seemed that charitable legacies left in Wills would be harder to dispute whilst estranged children would find it harder to claim successfully against a Will.
In Illot, the Supreme Court placed weight on the fact that the claimant, an adult child, was not a dependant. What’s more, she had been estranged from the deceased (her mother) for several years. The wishes of the mother not to provide for her daughter in these circumstances were an important factor.
A recent case, Nahajec v Fowle, considered a very similar scenario. The outcome was perhaps surprising in light of Illot and the weight the Supreme Court placed on the wishes of the deceased in that case.
The case was brought by Elena, the estranged adult child of Stanley Nahajec. Stanley went out of his way when he made his Will explicitly to disinherit his three children. He gave detailed reasons, explaining that he had not seen or heard from his children for 18 years, they had no interest in him or his welfare and they had independent means. His wishes and reasoning could not have been clearer.
However, the Court concluded that the estrangement had been caused by Stanley, not Elena. Elena had in fact tried to contact Stanley but had been rebuffed. Stanley had gone as far as putting the phone down on her when she tried to ring. The court found that Stanley had been a stubborn, intransigent and insensitive man who found it hard to forgive people who disagreed with him.
Despite Stanley’s clear wishes, the Court awarded Elena £30,000 from an estate of £264,000 on the basis she planned to do a veterinary course. This fell within the definition of “maintenance” for the purpose of the 1975 Act.
What the decision in Nahajec shows, is that every 1975 Act case will turn on its own facts. This is perhaps why the Supreme Court in Illot stopped short of setting out clear and universal guidance to follow in every case – it simply was not appropriate to do so. This is why it is important to take specialist advice in this area
If you have any concerns about a Will that you have been excluded from, contact our team of experienced Will dispute solicitors on
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