Claims under the IPFD Act 1975 – Provision for Adult Step-Children

 In Probate

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adult stepchildren

As our society develops increasingly complex webs of family relationships, and the idea of a “normal” family unit becomes more and more unusual, it is important to see how flexible the now 34 year old Act is to meet the needs of the 21st century applicant. This article tries to draw together some of the thinking which applies to claims by adult stepchildren.

The Process

Any application under the Act has to go through a three stage process:

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  1. is the Applicant entitled to bring a claim?
  2. if yes, did the will or intestacy make reasonable financial provision for them?
  3. if no, what would reasonable financial provision be?

The category that adult stepchildren will most easily fall into is that of a child of the family of the deceased, set out at S.1(1)(d) of the Act:

Any person, not being a child of the deceased, who in the case of any marriage or civil partnership to which the deceased was at any time a party was treated by the deceased as a child of the family in relation to that marriage or civil partnership.

In certain circumstances they may of course also be able to claim as dependants.

Who is a ‘child’?

The first “booby trap” in this legislation is that “child” does not mean “minor” so the door is open for adult stepchildren. However, they do have to prove two important things:

  • that the deceased was married to the applicant’s parent;
  • that they were treated as a child of the family during that marriage.

This is where the higher hurdle comes in for adult step-children as opposed to adult biological children (who simply have to establish the blood link). Step-children in many cases only see their parent remarry once they are in their late teens or after their minority altogether, and yet they still have to establish that they were treated as a child of the family after the marriage. It is no defence to a claim that the children were treated as children of the family by the deceased because he believed them to be his, but then found out that they weren’t! It is the fact of the treatment that counts, not the knowledge or ignorance upon which that treatment is predicated (W(RJ) v W(SJ) [1972] Fam 152).

The most relevant cases to assist in this issue are both quite old: re. Leach [1986] Ch.226 and Re. Callaghan [1985] Fam. 1.

Re. Leach

In Leach the Claimant’s mother had died when she was 29. When she was 32 her father had remarried. He died and left everything to his new wife. When she died intestate the step-daughter made a claim and succeeded. She had a very close relationship with her step-mother, had spent a considerable time caring for her, and they had provided each other with affection and support. The stepmother had no children and so the estate had passed to remote cousins. In considering the issue Slade L.J. accepted that it was a difficult issue. I shall quote at length because I think the passage is of importance:

One point is, in my opinion, clear beyond doubt and indeed, I think, has been common ground on this appeal: the legislature could not have contemplated that the mere display of affection, kindness or hospitality by a step-parent towards a step-child will by itself involve the treatment by the step parent of the step child as a child of the family in relation to the marriage, for the purpose of S.1(1)(d) so as to place the parent and his or her estate under a potential liability to provide for the step child. Something more is needed: reasonable step-parents can usually be expected to behave in a civilised and friendly manner towards their step-children, if only for the sake of their spouse…What more then is needed?…I can see no reason why even an adult person may not be capable of qualifying under that subsection provided that the deceased has, as wife or husband under the relevant marriage, expressly or impliedly, assumed the position of a parent towards the applicant, with the attendant responsibilities and privileges of that relationship. [pages 235…237].

Re. Callaghan

In Callaghan the claimant met the deceased when he came to live as a lodger in the claimant’s mother’s house. The deceased became the mother’s partner (she was a widow) and formed a close relationship with the claimant. When the claimant was 35 the deceased married the mother. The clamant and his wife had a close relationship with the deceased and his wife, holidaying together and taking on the role of involved and active grandparents to the claimant’s children. The mother died first, and the claimant and his wife cared for the deceased until he too died. In allowing the claimant’s claim for provision from the estate of the deceased the court tried to identify that necessary extra ingredient beyond mere “affection, kindness or hospitality”. Again the court focussed on the extent to which the deceased may have depended on the step child to care for them, the extent to which they may have confided in them, the extent to which they may have sought assistance in the management of their personal and financial affairs. All these things would point to the relation being akin to parent and child rather than anything else.

Conclusion

Consequently the child of the family test in this legislation is much more involved than in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which does not impose the “additional” requirements laid down in Callaghan and Leach.

Both of the authorities above involved single stepchildren with no competing “natural” children as defendants. It remains to be seen if, when in competition, the courts prefer the claims of biological children above those of step-children.

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