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Case law: Will-makers should think twice before disinheriting partners because of issues with their partner's children

Will-makers with financial responsibility for a partner should note that a wish to prevent their partner's children from previous relationships inheriting when the partner dies may not be an adequate reason for cutting the partner out of their will, a recent ruling illustrates.

April 2019

This update was published in Legal Alert - April 2019

Legal Alert is a monthly checklist from Atom Content Marketing highlighting new and pending laws, regulations, codes of practice and rulings that could have an impact on your business.

The wealthier of two unmarried partners, who had lived together for 42 years, died leaving an estate worth around £1.5m including several properties. When he died, his surviving partner was temporarily in a care home. He had made around 11 wills making provision for her in each case - except for his last will which left her with nothing. Instead, he left his estate to two of his tenants.

A side letter explained his reasons for cutting her out:

  • He did not trust his partner's four children from her previous marriage. He had had issues with three of them and felt they had taken advantage of him. He did not want them to benefit from his estate by inheriting it from their mother when she died.
  • He believed it unlikely his partner would be able to live alone without help because of her health and would need to move into a residential home. She had 'comfortably' enough income and savings of her own to pay for this.

The law allows family members and dependents of a deceased to claim 'reasonable financial provision' from an estate. The partner in this case applied to court for 'reasonable financial provision'. She asked for one of the deceased's properties to be transferred to her outright, together with a capital sum to make improvements to it, together with a further sum to cover her future living expenses and the upkeep of her new home.

The tenants argued that while she should be awarded a right to live in the property, and a right to income generated from the rest of the estate, everything should revert to them when she died.

The High Court said that it was important to have regard to the deceased's obligations and responsibilities to his partner, to the tenants and to others involved. First, it found that the partner was not in fact comfortably off at all. Her income was around £1,100 per month and her savings around £2,500 and so she had been financially dependent on the deceased when he died. The Court also concluded, having heard evidence from her GP and an independent occupational therapist, that she could live independently with support from one of her sons and his wife.

It also found that the deceased had not assumed any financial responsibility for his tenants during his life, and they had not done anything outstanding for him to justify their inheritance. The deceased's wish to stop his partner's children from ending up with any of his assets was not reason enough to cut her out of his will.

Her application was successful and the Court ordered that the property requested be transferred to her outright, together with £160,000 for improvements and ongoing living expenses and upkeep.

Operative date

  • Now

Recommendation

  • Will-makers with financial responsibility for a partner (and anyone else) should note that a wish to prevent their partner's children from earlier relationships from inheriting their assets when the partner dies may not be sufficient reason for cutting their partner out of their will.

Case ref: Thompson v Ragget & Ors [2018] EWHC 688

Please note: An article published in the May 2018 edition of Legal Alert covered this case at an earlier stage in the legal process.

Disclaimer: This article from Atom Content Marketing is for general guidance only, for businesses in the United Kingdom governed by the laws of England. Atom Content Marketing, expert contributors and ICAEW (as distributor) disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions.

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