Posted by Calum Campbell, Senior Associate
Not in the will? Is it always about the money?
There are various reasons why you may think you should have benefited from a Will (but didn’t!). A recent case, which went to the Court of Appeal, looked at the position of a cohabitee of over 20 years. Mr Warner wanted to stay in his deceased partner’s property, even though he was not left the property in the Will and could afford to buy his own house with personal wealth. The case highlights that the courts can look at claimants’ “maintenance needs” from a variety of angles when deciding on inheritance disputes.
Who can make a claim against an estate
The Inheritance Act is a useful tool for those seeking and permitted to claim a share or a greater share from a deceased person’s estate. However, except for spouses and civil partners, your claim (as either a cohabitee, child of the deceased or a financial dependent) is limited to what you can prove to be your need for “maintenance”.
What exactly is “maintenance”?
As “maintenance” is not defined within the Inheritance Act, there has been a great deal of debate over the years regarding what is meant by this term. The general consensus is that “maintenance” relates to day-to-day expenditure of a recurring nature. It is not merely a “breadline” existence, but nor will it provide for luxury.
Generally speaking, if a claimant has wealth of their own, then this will harm their chances of making a successful claim, regardless of whether making provision for them may seem “fair” in the circumstances. However, in the recent case of Warner v Lewis the court looked at whether “maintenance” could be more widely interpreted to enable a wealthy claimant still to benefit in some way from the estate of his late partner.
Warner v Lewis
Mr Warner and Mrs Blackwell lived together as an unmarried couple for nearly 20 years in a house owned by Mrs Blackwell. Mrs Blackwell died in 2014 and, by her Will, she left everything to her daughter, Mrs Lewis.
Mr Warner was wealthy in his own right and perfectly able to buy himself a house. That said, he was 91, in poor health and had lived in the area for most of his life. He therefore wanted to continue to live in the house he had shared with Mrs Blackwell for many years. However, unfortunately for Mr Warner, Mrs Blackwell’s Will did not provide him with a right to continue to live in the property (or in fact anything) and Mrs Lewis wanted him to move out so she could sell it.
Nine months after her mother’s death, Mrs Lewis brought a claim against Mr Warner to remove him from the house. Mr Warner then made a claim against Mrs Blackwell’s estate under the Inheritance Act as a cohabitee of more than two years.
This case concluded at the Court of Appeal, with all intermediary courts considering this case agreeing that “maintenance” could include maintaining the “roof over the head” of the person making the claim. However, given Mr Warner’s wealth, the court felt that his “award” should be limited to having the first option to buy the property at its full market value.
Whilst Mrs Lewis was unhappy with this outcome, the Court of Appeal felt this was an exceptional case. The decision indicates that, in certain circumstances, the term “maintenance” may mean more than just money or financial support.
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