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Inheritance disputes involving adult children

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Posted by Martin Oliver on 01 April 2013

Are adult children entitled to reasonable financial provision from an estate whereby they are not named in the will?


It is accepted pursuant to Section 1(d) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 that adult children are entitled to contest a will bringing a claim for reasonable financial provision if they have not received sufficient provision from their parents’ estate. 

The matters to be taken into account when establishing whether an adult child has received reasonable financial provision are as follows:

  1. The financial resources and financial needs which the applicant has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.
  2. The financial resources and financial needs which any other applicant may have in the foreseeable future.
  3. The financial resources and financial needs which any beneficiary of the estate of the deceased has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.
  4. Any obligations or responsibilities which the deceased had towards any applicant or towards any beneficiary of the estate of the deceased.
  5. The size and nature of the estate of the deceased.
  6. Any physical or mental disability of the applicant.
  7. Any other matter, including the conduct of the applicant or any other person which in the circumstances of the case the court may consider relevant.

Valuing "reasonable financial provision" in will contests

To assist the court in valuing “reasonable financial provision” in Inheritance Disputes there is guidance given in several cases. The first relevant case being the matter of Re Coventry with further analysis appearing in the cases of Re Hancock, Re Pearce and Espinosav v Bourke.

These cases established that the court will consider all the circumstances in Inheritance Disputes when reaching its decision including the headings above and balance all the factors when establishing whether an adult child has been left reasonable financial provision. 

It is clear that an adult able-bodied child who has no other argument other than to say he is “badly off” is unlikely to be successful with a claim pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Example of inheritance disputes: Re: Coventry deceased

In the case of Re Coventry Deceased, the Judge, Oliver J stated that “it is not the purpose of the act to provide legacies or rewards for meritus conduct…an Englishman still remains at liberty at his death to dispose of his own property in whatever way he pleases or, if he chooses to do so, to leave that position to be regulated by the laws of intestate succession”. Oliver J further stated that “there must, as it seems to me, be established some sort of moral obligation by the applicant to be maintained by the deceased or at the expense of his estate beyond a mere fact of a blood relationship, some reason why it can be said that in the circumstances, it is unreasonable that no or no greater provision was in fact made”.

Honour Goff LJ dealt with the criticism in relation to the having to be a moral obligation as stated at birth confirming that there is not a prerequisite of a “moral obligation” for an application under Section 1(1)(c). Goff LJ further stated “I have every sympathy for any plaintiff who, on relatively slender earnings, has to meet a steadily rising cost of living, but as I have said, I cannot regard the act as one which entitles the court to interfere with the deceased personal dispositions simply because a qualified applicant feels in need of financial assistance”.

Following Re Coventry the case law has established that adult children who are financially secure will struggle to succeed with a claim for reasonable financial provision.

Example of inheritance dispute: Re: Hancock

Butler-Sloss LJ in Re Hancock [1998] further confirmed the above approach when stating that “in fact similar to those in Re Coventry even more so with the comparatively affluent application in Re Jennings, if the facts disclosed that the adult child is in employment, with an earning capacity for the foreseeable future it is unlikely that he will succeed in his application”.

Example of inheritance dispute: Robinson v Bird

The above approach was further detailed in the case of Robinson v Bird [2003] where Blackburn J dismissed the claims stated that “the question for the court to consider was not whether it might have been reasonable for the testator to have made greater provision for the daughter but whether in all the circumstances it was objectively unreasonable that her will did not do so." The testator had no continuing obligation to either her daughter or her grandson.

Example of inheritance dispute: Espinosav v Bourke

Butler-Sloss LJ further reviewed the previous cases in the well known matter of Espinosav v Bourke [1999] in which it was stated “there may have been some confusion in the minds of trial judges that the appellant at court was placing a gloss upon the words of the section, and putting some special emphasis upon the requirements of Subsection 3(1)(d) so as to elevate moral obligation or special circumstances to some threshold requirement. An adult child is, consequently, in no different position from any other applicant who is to prove his case. If the applicant is of working age with a job or capable of obtaining a job which would be available, the facts in favour as to financial provision may not be of much weight in this scale”. Again it was stated that necessitous circumstances cannot mean themselves a reason to alter the testator’s dispositions.

Example of inheritance dispute: Gold v Carter

An example of a recent Inheritance Dispute case in which an adult child has been successful with a claim pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependant) Act 1975 is the case of Gold -v- Carter [2005]. In this case the court made an order in favour of a 58 year old son. Mr Gold had an inadequate pension provision, suffered from depression and had net assets of approximately £340,000 with outgoings in excess of his monthly income. The mother had an estate of £870,000 which was left entirely to her daughter who had assets of £1,100,000. The relevant factors taken into account when making reasonable financial provision for Mr Gold were as follows:

  1. his financial position was precarious;
  2. his sister had substantial assets;
  3. a parent has obligations and responsibilities to his/her children;
  4. the Estate was large;
  5. Mr Gold suffered from depression and was not in the position whereby his income would substantially increase.

The area of law relating to contesting a will can be extremely complex and we do advise that you take legal advice. 

About the author

Martin specialises in inheritance disputes such as contesting a will and litigation involving wills and trusts.

Martin Oliver

Martin specialises in inheritance disputes such as contesting a will and litigation involving wills and trusts.

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