Joan Thompson claimed reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 from the estate of her partner, Wynford Hodge. He gave his £1.5m estate to Karla Evans and Agon Berisha, who were tenants of one of his properties. The will made no provision for Joan, who was financially dependent on Wynford and who had lived with him for 42 years.
The parties’ positions
Karla and Agon accepted that reasonable provision was not made for Joan. However, they argued that the Court must be satisfied that Joan’s GP’s evidence was correct and up to date given that it would form part of the Court’s decision making process; and that Joan’s son and daughter-in-law would actually provide the care suggested. The Judge determined that both these preconditions were met. The key question was therefore what financial award should be made to Joan.
Joan submitted that she should be awarded:
(1) Elidyr Cottage; and
(2) a monetary award to cover the costs of making the cottage suitable for her, the annual costs of maintaining the cottage, general outgoings and the costs of a suitable care package.
Karla and Agon submitted that if the proper award was to allow Joan to reside in one of the properties with an appropriate care package, then that should be on the basis of a life interest rather than an outright transfer.
The Court considered the following:
- Joan’s financial resources and needs now and in the future. Joan had savings of £2,500. Her only income was a state benefit and a disability living allowance, totalling £1,114 per month.
- The resources and needs of any other applicant for an award under the 1975 Act. No evidence in support of any such claim was filed.
- The resources and needs of Karla and Agon. They occupied the house and the surrounding 23 acres of land at Penffordd with their children on the basis of a tenancy and a licence. Karla worked part time in a market garden business, together with doing some cleaning work. Agon worked on a caravan site and grew flowers and vegetables. They had little savings. They were paying £400 per month rent for the house with the assistance of housing benefit.
- The obligations and responsibilities which Wynford had towards Joan or Karla and Agon. Wynford made about 11 wills and recognised his financial obligations to Joan by making provision for her previously. He acknowledged that one of his responsibilities was as her main carer. The predominant motive for excluding her was that he did not want Joan’s children to benefit, which was held not to be a sufficient reason for leaving her without any provision. He assumed little if any responsibility towards Karla and Agon.
- The size and nature of the estate. Wynford’s estate was valued at £1,535,060.
- Joan’s disability. A GP confirmed that Joan “retains sufficient medical health not to require the facilities of a nursing home. She is certainly fit enough to reside in private accommodation with a relevant social care package. Furthermore, she retains the capacity to make this decision.” Joan no longer wished to reside in a nursing home and wished to live in Parsonage Bungalow or Elidyr Cottage.
- Any other matter which in the circumstances of the case it considers relevant. Wynford gave his reasons for leaving Joan out of the will in a letter of wishes. He said that he did not trust Joan’s children and therefore did not want her to inherit. He said that he did not want Joan to have any income as this would be substantial, he didn’t think she would need it and he did not think she could live in his property independently. He envisaged that she would go into a care home after his death.
The Court considered Joan’s claim as a cohabitee, having regard for her age (79), the period of cohabitation (42 years) and her contribution to the welfare of Wynford’s family (including looking after their home and his mother).
The Court further considered her claim as a dependent, having regard to the length of time and the basis on which Wynford maintained her, the extent of the contribution and the extent to which he assumed responsibility for her maintenance.
The Judge held that:
- it was unreasonable for Joan to live away from the farm where she wants to live and which has been her home for 42 years;
- it was reasonable for Joan to live in Elidyr Cottage (worth £225,000), which is the reason it was bought;
- Joan was elderly, in need of care, a cohabitee and a dependent. Given the very long period of cohabitation and given that that her son and his wife would be providing the care at the cottage, it was reasonable for there to be an outright transfer, rather than a life interest. The Judge felt that Joan should be able to take decisions relating to her home without the need to seek permission.
On that basis the Judge awarded:
- 28,844.68 for adaptations; and
- £160,000 for ongoing costs.
In making the decision the Judge noted that these awards still left Karla and Agon with most of the estate (over £1m). The Judge also stated that Wynford’s wishes should not hinder the reasonable provision for Joan’s maintenance.
There are two key points to take away from this case:
- Cohabitees are able to successfully secure financial provision even where provision has not been made in a will;
- There is no hard and fast rule that accommodation must be made available by way of a life interest (as in Ilott (Respondent) v The Blue Cross and others (Appellants)  UKSC 1), rather than an outright transfer (even where life expectancy may be short).
The case shows that awards made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 are always dependant on the facts of each particular case.
If it can be shown that you are financially dependent upon the deceased and insufficient or no provision has made for you, it may be possible to bring a claim for reasonable financial provision. In addition, specific family members are also be entitled to bring a claim for reasonable financial provision and it is only on a case by case basis that an assessment can be made to establish if a claimant is likely to be successful.