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The 2021 Inheritance (Provision for Family and dependants) Act 1975 (the ‘Act’) claim of Miles & Anor -v- Shearer highlighted the difference between claims made by a spouse and a claim made by wider potential beneficiaries. 

A spouse can make a claim under section 1(a) of the Act for provision “whether or not that provision is required for his or her maintenance”.   Any other potential beneficiary (such as an adult child or former spouse) can make a claim but will only be awarded “such financial provision as would be reasonable… for the applicant to receive for his maintenance”. 

In this case, the deceased (‘Tony’) was a successful business man whose two children had benefited from his financial position throughout their childhood.  Tony divorced and quickly married a second wife (‘Pamela’).  The couple wrote mirror wills leaving everything to each other and then to his two children on the second death.  Tony was first to die.  This triggered a claim by his two children for adequate provision under the Act.  The children claimed that their father had not left suitable provision for them on his death. 

Pamela, on behalf of his estate, argued that the children had been provided for during Tony’s lifetime and, as per numerous letters, had been told by Tony that they would get no further on his death. 

The judge held that the children had been more than adequately provided for in their lifetime and this, coupled with their own financial position at the time of Tony’s death, meant their claim for maintenance was denied.  Pamela refused to provide evidence of her financial position at court, a position that the judge agreed was irrelevant when deciding whether the children’s claim should succeed. 

The main legal points to come from this case were:

Requirement for Maintenance:

1.  Children making an Inheritance Act claim need to make sure that they have a genuine need for maintenance from the deceased.  If they are already financially stable, proving such a need becomes challenging.

Communication of Intent:

2.  This case highlights the importance of clear communication (in writing) of inheritance intentions whilst alive. In this case, Tony was very specific that his children had benefited enough from him already and that he could no longer be deemed their “cheque book”.  Whilst this type of conversation can be difficult, it should hopefully alleviate any confusion (or argument) on death.  This type of communication, although potentially difficult to have with children, can help prevent disputes or confusion upon the individual's death.

Additionally, the judge's ruling suggests that the financial position of the surviving spouse (Pamela) was deemed irrelevant to the decision regarding the children's claim. This indicates that the focus of the court was primarily on the needs and circumstances of the claimants rather than those of the executor or other beneficiaries.

For more information about Contentious Probate cases that have recently gone to court, please read our overview blog of 'Contentious Private Client 2024' here. 

Our Contentious Probate team can assist with all types of inheritance and will disputes. For further advice please contact the team on 01484 558058.

The above article is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any part of the information given.