The Inheritance and Provision for Family and Dependants Act 1975

“Upon death, a deceased’s estate is usually distributed in accordance with the provisions made in their Will, or where no Will exists, in accordance with the laws on intestacy. However, English law offers protection to certain classes of people connected to the deceased, if they can show that the deceased’s estate does not make reasonable financial provision for their maintenance.

A claim may be made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 for financial provision, or greater financial provision, from the deceased’s estate in order to ensure that a claimant has enough money to reasonably maintain themselves. This tends to mean that they should be able to live at a level which is neither luxurious nor frugal, but much will depend on individual circumstances in each case.

Generally, a claim may be made by a spouse / civil partner, a former spouse / civil partner, a child, cohabitee or dependant of the deceased.

In determining whether the deceased’s estate has made reasonable financial provision for a claimant, the court will have regard to certain factors. It will consider:

  • The financial needs and resources of the claimant both now and in the foreseeable future.
  • The financial needs and resources of any other claimant or beneficiary of the estate.
  • The obligations that the deceased had towards the claimant or towards any other beneficiary before he died.
  • The size of the estate.
  • Any physical or mental disability of the claimant or any beneficiary.
  • The conduct of the claimant.
  • Any other relevant matter

The purpose of looking at these factors is to enable the court to consider whether the estate makes reasonable provision for the claimant’s maintenance. However, where the claimant is a husband, wife or civil partner of the deceased, the court will look beyond what financial provision is needed simply for maintenance purposes, and will also look at what would be ‘reasonable in all of the circumstances’ for that spouse or civil partner to receive. Generally, this attracts a higher level of financial provision.

In determining a claim by a spouse or civil partner, in addition to the above factors the court will consider:

  • The age of the spouse.
  • The duration of the marriage/civil partnership.
  • The contribution made to the deceased’s family during the marriage, including looking after the home and caring for the family.
  • Any children of the family/marriage.
  • What the spouse / civil partner would have received if the marriage had ended by divorce rather than by death.

The court has a wide discretion as to what order it may make if it determines that a spouse or civil partner has not received reasonable provision from an estate. Potential outcomes include the order of a regular income from the estate, a lump sump capital payment, the transfer of property or some other variation of the estate funds.

In the case of Adams v Lewis [2001] a widow of 54 years was left only £10,000 plus her deceased husband’s personal effects, out of an estate worth £350,000. The couple had 9 surviving children, to whom the remainder of the estate was left in equal shares.

At trial, the judge found that the deceased owed his widow an obligation of the highest order. She had maintained the matrimonial home and had been a good wife and mother for over 50 years. An order was made entitling the widow to approximately half of the net estate, including transfer of the matrimonial home to her.

A claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 should be made within 6 months from the date of grant of probate or letters of administration, and only where the deceased was living in England or Wales at the time of his death.”