It’s considered an important ruling by legal experts and could influence the way some wills are drawn up in the future.
The case involved a woman who had been estranged from her mother for 26 years, since leaving home at the age of 17 to be with her boyfriend. She later married him and they now have five children.
The couple depend on state benefits and live in a housing association house which they have the right to buy. The woman has never had a holiday, has difficulty affording clothes for the children, and was limited in the food she could buy.
When her mother died, she left all her net estate of £486,000 to various charities, even though she had little to do with them during her lifetime. The daughter took legal action to claim a share of the estate.
At the first hearing, the district judge found that the mother had not made reasonable financial provision for her daughter. However, he decided that any financial award he made for her should be limited because she had managed for many years on limited resources and had a lack of expectation.
He awarded her £50,000. The daughter appealed because she would lose a greater amount in state benefits than she would gain from the award.
The main issue was how the court should set about determining the amount of an award if the effect of that award was to remove the state benefit.
The Court of Appeal held that the judge had made fundamental errors in his approach which meant that his award should be set aside.
It held that the daughter’s present income was not sufficient for her maintenance given the restrictions which she had to impose on her spending and the lack of any provision to meet her future needs when she grew older or if she suffered any ill-health.
The court could and should make reasonable financial provision out of the mother’s estate for her daughter’s maintenance so that her living expenses were relieved without affecting the state benefits which she relied upon.
An award would therefore be made for £143,000, the cost of buying her home plus the reasonable expenses of acquiring it. She would also be awarded an option to take a further maximum capital sum of £20,000, to provide an immediate capital sum from which further income needs could be met.
The provision of funds to allow her to acquire her house would relieve her of rent liability and allow her to keep her tax credits. If those benefits were not preserved, there was little or no financial provision for maintenance at all.
Lawyers believe the ruling could lead to an increase in the number of people challenging their parents’ will if they feel they have not been provided for adequately, especially if they are in financial difficulties.
It also means that parents wishing to leave their children out of their will may have to give explicit reasons for their actions and outline why they want their estate to go to other people or organisations instead.
Please contact Michelle Stopford in our Warminster office on 01985 214444, or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of wills and probate.