IMPORTANT UPDATE: COVID-19

An interesting judgement was delivered at Leeds County Court last month in the case of Bullockv Denton &Willoughby [2020].

The Claimant, Yvonne Bullock moved in with her partner just over 3 years before his sudden and unexpected death in May 2017.

The deceased’s Will left his entire £2 million estate to his brother and did not make any provision at all for the Claimant. She claimed that the will does not make reasonable financial provision for her and brought a claim under the Inheritance(Provision for Family and Dependents Act) 1975 as a cohabitee of the deceased and also as a person who was maintained by him.

She had relied on him for accommodation and financial support generally throughout their relationship and claimed a lump sum of money to enable her to purchase a property, a further sum to fund the purchase of a new car which she needed to travel to and from work, a payment to help clear the debts she had incurred since the date of her partner’s death including the balance of her legal costs which were not met by the estate such as the success fee element of her solicitors and barrister’s fees which would otherwise be deducted from her damages.

The deceased’s brother argued that any award the court makes should not “set her up for life” but should take account of the short length of her relationship with the deceased and make a small lump sum award to cover her short term needs until she becomes financially independent.

The Judge noted the length of the relationship but nevertheless awarded a lump sum payment of £140,000 from the estate to allow her to purchase a property which she can live in for the rest of her life but ordered that the property would be held on trust for the estate on the basis that the proceeds of sale of the property would revert back to the estate on the Claimant’s death. The court also accepted her claim that any additional costs liability that is not recoverable from the estate under the usual costs rules would amount to a debt incurred after the date of the deceased’s death and could substantially reduce the amount of money available to the Claimant after payment of her legal costs. She was therefore awarded a further sum of £70,000 to cover the costs of a new car, payment of all her debts and removal expenses.

It will be interesting to see how this judgement impacts on future cases that are funded by way of conditional fee agreements where success fees are not usually recoverable from the “losing” party. This judgement is also an important reminder that the court will consider each case on its own facts when deciding what order to make and what “reasonable financial provision” is in any case. The short length of a relationship whilst being a relevant consideration, will not necessarily prevent the Court from making an award which takes into account the Claimant’s future and long term needs.

For further advice on this or any other contentious probate or inheritance dispute, please contact Nazia Nawaz on 01484 558058 or my email nazia.nawaz@ramsdens.co.uk