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Another claim brought by a surviving spouse under the  Inheritance Act has been in the headlines recently.  Mr Justice Peel delivered  Judgement in  the recent the case of Kaur v Estate of Karnail Singh & Ors [2023].The Court heard that this was “the clearest possible case” in which an Order under the Act should be made to provide financial assistance to the Claimant,. Some of the keys findings are summarised below.

Brief Background

The Claimant was an 83 year old widow who had been married to the deceased for 66 years. The couple had six surviving children, two sons and four daughters. The Claimant had always contributed equally to the marriage as a wife and through working in the family clothing business. The Deceased’s will  excluded his wife and four daughters. The Claimant had various medical conditions and was registered disabled. On her husband’s death, she was left with no home and only welfare benefits to support her.. The Deceased had written his Will in 2005 and intended only for his male descendants to inherit his estate.

A claim for financial provision was brought by the Claimant under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.  Generally speaking, the Act requires the Court to consider whether:-

(1)   The Will makes reasonable financial provision for the Claimant; and
(2)   If it does not, then what amounts to reasonable financial provision in any case?

To determine what is reasonable, the Court must take into account the factors set out  in Section 3(1) of the Act including the needs of the Claimant, the size of the Estate and any disability of the Claimant or beneficiaries. In the case of a spouse, the court may also consider the factors which would be relevant on divorce – ie had the marriage ended in divorce instead, what would the Claimant have been entitled to.

The Judgment and observations

Taking into account all the relevant factors, Mr Justice Peel awarded the Claimant 50% of the Estate equating to  roughly £1million. The Judge maintained that this case was clear-cut in that the Will had not made reasonable provision for the wife as she had been completely excluded from it. Mr Justice Peel explained that the Claimant had fully contributed to the marriage whilst their assets accrued yet she was left with nothing on her husband’s death. The Judge was of the view that had the Claimant and the Deceased divorced, she would have been entitled to around 50% of the Estate,  and so an award of a 50% share of the Estate was considered to be  reasonable provision here. The award would enable the Claimant to purchase a property close to her daughter and have some funds to meet her future care needs.

Further, Mr Justice Peel clarified the procedure for bring a claim under the Act  as follows:-

1.      Claims must be issued in the Chancery Division or the Family Division. Claims may be issued in County Courts only where they have a Chancery District Registry.
2.      Claims made by a spouse can be transferred to the Family Division.
3.      No matter where a claim is heard, the Civil Procedure Rules (not the Family Procedure Rules) will apply.
4.      Hearings are to be held in public and judgments will not be anonymised.
5.      The Family Court cannot hear these claims in a family law context.

This  claim was brought under the CPR Part 8 procedure. This is an abbreviated claims process which invites the Court to determine claims largely based on written evidence and can speed the litigation process up. Mr Justice Peel said that the facts of this case were appropriate for the claim to be determined at the first hearing as:-

1.      The claim was undefended. One Defendant did not resist the claim and the other Defendant  did not participate in the proceedings.
2.      The facts were not disputed.
3.      The Claimant was elderly and without any funds. Peel J believed it would be unreasonable to continue with proceedings on this basis.

The claim was issued and determined in around 12 weeks which is much quicker than the usual litigation timescale and hopefully this will set a procedural precedent for future cases with similar facts which can in many cases takes many months if not years to reach a conclusion.

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