Reasonable Provision May Not Mean What You Think

When a person is excluded from the will of someone on whom they were 'dependent', the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 provides that the dependent person can apply for 'reasonable financial provision' to be made for their maintenance out of the deceased's estate.

It may be thought that this is purely about the money side of a will and the relationship that preceded it, but a decision of the Court of Appeal shows that the law is more subtly shaded than it may appear.

The case involved an elderly lady who had lived with her partner for more than 20 years. When she died, having left him nothing in her will, he made a claim under the Act…not for financial provision, which he did not need, but for the right to buy the property in which they both had lived for its current market value. He just did not want to move, which is unsurprising given that he is 93 years old.

Rather surprisingly, the woman's daughter and her executor opposed his claim and also sought a court order to have him evicted. In 2015, the County Court concluded that having a roof over one's head was 'maintenance' and ruled in favour of the man, which even more surprisingly led to an appearance in the Court of Appeal because the daughter and executor appealed against that decision. They argued that he could afford to buy another property and in any case his continued occupation was depriving them of the ability to obtain the 'chattels' (furniture etc.).

The Court of Appeal was clear that the decision in the County Court was made with proper consideration of the provisions of the Act. Section 2(1)(c) permits the provision of maintenance in the form of the transfer to the applicant of property from the estate, and it was common ground that this could be in return for some financial consideration. It had been established that maintenance in the form of accommodation had been provided and the man needed that maintenance to continue. Just because he could afford to make alternative arrangements did not mean that he was not entitled to have the status quo maintained.

The appeal was dismissed, leaving the daughter and executor to pick up a hefty bill for legal costs.