As you know, we bring you regular updates on legal matters that might affect you. This time, we look at a few of the complexities of the Inheritance Act.

Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975

In the UK, there is a longstanding principle that people can bequeath their assets to anyone they wish.

However, inheritance law states that ‘reasonable provision’ should be made for dependants who were connected with the deceased, such as a current or former spouse or civil partner, or a child. 

‘Reasonable’ means they should get enough to ensure they don’t live at either a luxurious or a poverty-stricken level.

In recent years, there has been an increase in claims for such provision from estates. Here are a few examples:

What if an adult child is estranged?

An adult daughter was estranged from her late mother and left out of her mother’s Will in favour of various charities. The estate was worth £486,000. However, the daughter was in difficult financial circumstances, so she made a claim under the inheritance act.

She was originally awarded £50,000 which was increased to £143,000 on appeal. The charities appealed against the increase and succeeded in reducing the daughter’s claim back to £50,000.

What if a relative dies before their inheritance claim goes through?

If someone dies before their inheritance claim goes through, their estate does not have the right to continue the claim.

That’s what happened to Julie Archibald. Her husband Neil was in the process of making a claim under the inheritance act against the estates of his late parents when he died. It was ruled that his widow had no claim, as his right to any of the money expired on his death.

What if the family disagree with the hospital’s end-of-life care plan for a relative?

If a family asks the Court of Protection to overrule the hospital’s end-of-life care plan for a patient, they won’t have to pay the legal costs incurred when the trust appeals (unless the circumstances are exceptional).

When their mother was dying, her family opposed the suggested treatment. They went to the England and Wales Court of Protection to overrule the hospital’s proposed end-of-life care plan.

The hospital applied to the England and Wales Court of Appeal, asking that the family pay the trust’s legal costs.

The judges agreed unanimously that there was nothing in the family’s conduct to warrant such an order. As the vulnerable mother was a ‘protected person’, they refused to grant an order of costs for an appeal relating to her personal welfare.

What this means to you

The law about inheritance and long-term care is complicated, especially with the rise in divorce and blended families.

If you think you have a claim against the estate of a relative, you must make it within six months of the grant of probate (where there’s a valid Will) or letters of administration (if the relative died intestate – without a Will).

Note that you will have to declare your own financial position and needs so the court can take a view about what provision is ‘reasonable’.

You might be awarded a lump sum, regular payments, or even the right to live in an estate property. It all depends on what level of maintenance you need.

To avoid your own dependants ending up in a sticky situation, our best advice is for you to:

Of course, we can help with all of that.

Please contact our friendly experts in Wills, Trusts & Tax Planning.