Miles v Shearer  EWHC 1000 (Ch) – A recent claim by adult children under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 (the “Act”)
Section 1 (c) of the Act confirms that where a person dies domiciled in England and Wales a surviving child may apply to the court on the grounds that the disposition of their estate (either by will or under the laws of intestacy) does not make such financial provision as would be reasonable in all of the circumstances for them to receive for their maintenance.
Cases brought by adult children are known amongst by practitioners to be difficult (although not impossible with the appropriate evidence) this is especially where such children are able bodied and capable of providing for themselves. This recent example gives an insight into the approach of the Court and the scrutiny that will be taken of all relevant facts.
Matters to which the Court must have regard
Section 3 of the Act sets out the matters that the Court must consider when an application is made under the Act and these are as follows:
- the financial resources and financial needs which the applicant has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
- the financial resources and financial needs which any other applicant has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
- the financial resources and financial needs which any beneficiary of the estate has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
- any obligations and responsibilities which the deceased had towards any applicant or towards any beneficiary of his estate;
- the size and nature of the net estate;
- any physical or mental disability of any applicant or any beneficiary of the estate;
- any other matter, including the conduct of the applicant or any other person which in the circumstances the Court considers to be relevant.
Miles v Shearer
In the recent case of Miles v Shearer heard by Sir Julian Flaux (Chancellor of the High Court), a claim was made by two adult children for reasonable financial provision from their late father’s estate.
The claim was refused.
The claimants were 39 and 40 years old respectively and the adult children of the deceased. The deceased had been married to their mother for 34 years prior to the marriage being dissolved. The deceased’s will made no provision for either of the claimants, the principal beneficiary being the deceased’s second wife. The value of the net estate was just an excess of £2 million.
Prior to the breakdown of their parents’ marriage the claimants enjoyed a privileged childhood. They were both privately educated and following their A-levels their parents funded gap years for them. Each of the claimants went to university but, for different reasons, neither finished their degrees.
The claimants sought to portray that their relationship with the deceased deteriorated due to the influence of his second wife. This extensive attack on the second wife was found to be unattractive, by the Court. Evidence was given that the claimants found it amusing to refer to the deceased as “the cheque-book“ and that he found this to be hurtful.
The deceased, who died in 2017, had clearly advised each of the claimants that they would receive no further financial assistance from him following a substantial gift in 2008.
One of the claimants sought to argue that she was solely responsible for the extensive and complex needs of her youngest daughter who was severely autistic and unlikely to be able to lead an independent life and that she required funds from her father’s estate to meet the costs of supporting her daughter.
The Court found that although it was unfortunate that the deceased’s grandchild was autistic, a grandchild did not qualify as an eligible person under the Act and that the obligation to consider any physical or mental disability of any applicant did not extend to the disability of a dependent of an applicant. It was noted that the Court had taken into account the effect of the dependant’s autism on her mother’s earning capacity.
The other claimant sought funds from the deceased’s estate to allow her to convert her interest only mortgage to a repayment mortgage. It was the court’s view that this could not properly be described as maintenance within the meaning of the Act. It was found that the claimant’s lifestyle choices were made completely independently of any financial assistance or expectation of such from the deceased. The deceased having made it abundantly clear in 2008 that subsequent to a gift of £185,000 (to go towards the purchase of a flat) the claimant was on her own financially and should expect no more from her father.
Another aspect of the case was that each of the claimants received financial assistance over the years from their mother following their parents’ divorce. It was noted that the mother had indicated a general intention to continue helping both daughters financially. Ultimately it was found that neither claimant had demonstrated a need for maintenance which could not be met, if necessary, by adjustment to their lifestyles.
A further point of interest is that the deceased’s widow elected to keep her own finances private and declined to answer any questions about them in cross-examination. The Court’s view on this was that in such circumstances the Court must infer that the beneficiary’s financial needs were already met from outside the deceased’s net estate. This is because otherwise it would allow a wealthy defendant to invite the court to treat their financial position as neutral, by refusing to give particulars of their own wealth, and that that would lead to manifest unfairness.
In summary the Court found that the deceased had no obligations or responsibilities towards either of his daughters at the time of his death for the following reasons:
- Although the claimants enjoyed an affluent lifestyle until their early 20s, upon the divorce of their parents they were not entitled to expect that standard of living to continue indefinitely. Indeed the facts showed that they had not done so and that the lifestyle choices they made in terms of marriage and family were not dependent upon their father’s financial support at the time;
- The deceased had made generous provision for both claimants in 2008, which they were able to invest in property and made it abundantly clear at that time that they could not expect any further financial assistance from him;
- This was not a case where the deceased was under any moral obligation to either claimant at the time of his death;
- Neither claimant had been able to demonstrate a need for maintenance which could not be met by an adjustment to their lifestyle.
Ultimately the Court found that the claimants had sufficient means to maintain themselves and that the deceased was a man who “knew his own mind and acted of his own free will”. It was acknowledged that the claimants’ unwillingness to accept the deceased’s second wife upset him greatly, as did their financial demands upon him.
This case is an interesting example of the Court’s approach to an application for financial maintenance by adult children and a reminder that the Court will consider every case on its merits.