The Inheritance Disputes team at WBW Solicitors has recently achieved success for two clients who were disappointed with the provision made for them in their husbands’ wills.

In both cases, our clients felt that their husbands’ wills were unfairly generous to their children from earlier marriages, with the bulk of their estate passing to their children and with limited provision for their widows. In both cases, the marriages had lasted around 20 years before being ended by the husband’s death.

In one case, the Deceased’s will provided for his widow to continue living in his home although it would ultimately pass to his children, and for her to receive a quarter of the remaining estate (excluding a second, more valuable property). His widow had very little of her own and would not have been able to afford to buy a house of her own.

In the second case, the Deceased’s will allowed his widow to continue living in the house which they owned together (although he owned a larger proportion of it) but again for his share ultimately to pass to his children, and provided for her to receive a quarter of the remaining estate.  Again, this arrangement would not allow his widow to afford to buy a house of her own.

In both cases, the widows’ relationships with their stepchildren had soured after their husbands’ death and they were unhappy with the ongoing relationship continuing through their living in properties which would ultimately pass in whole or in part to their stepchildren.  They wanted to receive sufficient sums to buy properties of their own, or to buy the homes they were living in from the estates.

If a deceased person’s spouse considers that the provision made for them in the will is not reasonable, they can bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for the Court to make an award of reasonable provision to them.  The Court has to consider a number of factors including the financial positions of the spouse and the beneficiaries of the will, the size of the estate, any moral obligations on the part of the deceased person and the conduct of all parties.  In the context of a claim by a spouse, the Court must consider what the spouse may have received by way of a financial settlement if the marriage had ended in divorce instead of death.

Although other people (children, co-habitees and dependants) are able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, the Court will only award them provision if they reasonably need it to meet their outgoings.  A spouse will receive an award simply if the will is not reasonable to them as a spouse.

In both cases, a Court claim was started promptly as the Court rules require this type of claim to be commenced within 6 months of the grant of probate being issued.  The claims were then put on hold for the parties to explore whether a compromise settlement could be agreed, which is considerably cheaper than the Court deciding the cases at a trial.

In one case, a mediation was set up, with all parties and lawyers joining by video due to COVID-19, for the mediator to facilitate a settlement.  Ultimately, it was agreed that the widow could buy out her husband’s interest in their home at a reduced value which she paid for with an equity release mortgage.  She was delighted to be able to continue living in her home without having to deal with her stepchildren.

In the other case, we asked the Court to nominate a judge to give an opinion on the claim to both parties once he had had the facts explained to him.  Again, this was done by video call due to COVID-19.  A brief period of negotiations followed, in which it was agreed that the widow would receive sufficient money from the estate to buy a new property close to her daughter.  Again, the client was happy to be able to buy a home of her own with a clean break from her stepchildren.

The vast majority of these claims settle before trial, although we will only advise settling if this is likely to be a better result for our clients than proceeding with the Court case.

Both cases are examples of the difficulties that can arise when a person dies leaving a spouse and children from an earlier relationship.  In these cases, it was clear that both the Deceaseds had not struck the balance right when deciding how to divide their estate, resulting in a situation which was unfair and unreasonable to their spouse.  With our assistance, their widows were able to secure settlements which left them with the security and comfort of a suitable home and with the option to cut ties from their stepchildren.

If you have suffered a bereavement and are concerned that your loved one’s will does not make reasonable provision for you, or if you wish to uphold a will which is being contested, our specialist Inheritance Disputes Team may be able to assist. Send us an email at cp@wbw.co.uk or call our client co-ordinator on 01626 202384.