Courts draw the line in claims by adult children under IPFD Act 1975

 In Probate

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CLAIMS BY ADULT CHILDREN

In H v M, The Blue Cross and others [2010] WTLR 193 a High Court Judge overturned the decision of a District Judge to order provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Act”) in a case where an adult child could demonstrate only need, available resources in the estate and that the Defendant beneficiaries, being charities, were owed no relevant obligation.

1. The Claimant, an impecunious adult, claimed provision from her mother’s estate. By her will the mother left her estate worth £486,000 to the Defendant charities. A District Judge had been tempted to do what 1st instance judges are often tempted to do – to see that the child got something, in this case £50,000. On her appeal seeking more, King J allowed the charities’ cross appeal and dismissed her claim.

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Why the decision matters?

2. The case demonstrates –

i) that the proper question is not whether the deceased behaved unreasonably towards the applicant but whether the operative disposition is unreasonable in not making provision for the applicant’s maintenance;

ii) that the operative disposition will not be found to be unreasonable merely because –

a) the applicant is a child of the deceased (even an only child of an only surviving parent), and

b) the applicant is in need of maintenance, and

c) there are ample resources available in the estate to make provision for the maintenance of the applicant, and

d) the current beneficiaries, being charities, have no needs that the court will weigh in the balance against the claim.

Facts:

3. In February 1978, when the Claimant was 17, she left home to live, against her mother’s will, with a young man, N. The Claimant never lived with her mother again and, subject to 3 attempted reconciliations, the relationship between them was never repaired.

4. The Claimant married N on 30th April 1983 and they had had 5 children aged 25, 22, 20, 16 and 11.

5. The District Judge found that the principal reason for the lack of a successful reconciliation was the deceased’s unreasonable inability to come to terms with her daughter’s decision to leave home.

6. The family of the Claimant lived in rented property in modest circumstances. The family income was £14,155 a year and 75% of that was state benefit. The Claimant chose not to work from the time of the birth of her first child.

District Judge’s flawed judgment

7. The District Judge found that the rejection by the mother of her only child was unreasonably maintained and led to her unreasonably excluding her child from provision in her will despite her daughter’s obviously needy financial circumstances and wish for reconciliation.

The Conclusion of King J

8. King J concluded that the District Judge erred in law in that he asked himself the wrong question. The District Judge may have thought that the deceased was unreasonable in her inability to forgive her only child for running away and in preferring to leave her estate to charities in which she had shown no interest. That is not the issue. The question is not whether the deceased acted unreasonably but whether on an objective basis, having considered all the s.3 factors, the provision, or lack of it, is unreasonable.

9. King J re-evaluated the s.3 factors on an objective basis and found –

i) the most relevant fact was the enduring rift between mother and daughter;

ii) the daughter’s necessitous circumstances arose from “lifestyle choices” – to have 5 children and stay at home;

iii) following Espinosa v Bourke [1999] 1 FLR 747 an adult child capable of obtaining a job needs to identify some weighty factor to establish that there has been a failure to make reasonable provision;

iv) the “ordinary family obligations of a mother towards her only child” described by the District Judge were not such a “weighty factor”.

King J concluded there was nothing here beyond filial relationship and necessitous circumstances to tip the balance in favour of a finding that no provision was unreasonable provision.

Key Conclusions

10. It is a misconception to think that Hancock [1998] 2 FLR 346, Pearce, deceased [1998] 2 FLR 705 and Espinosa v Bourke [1999] 1 FLR 747 had the effect that claims by adult children where there is ample estate and beneficiaries with no competing needs are bound to succeed. The Claimant must still establish that it is unreasonable that the operative disposition fails to make provision.

11. Do not just look at the dire finances of the Claimant: also look at the reason for those finances.

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