Inheritance Act Claims
If you have been excluded from a Will or have not been left as much as you were expecting, it may be possible to make an Inheritance Act Claim.
As well as having a sizeable emotional impact, the death of a loved one can leave people facing major financial and practical difficulties, including the risk of losing their home. Such problems can arise because you have been excluded from a Will, you are in the Will but have not been left enough or because there is no Will at all, and the Intestacy Rules do not apply to you (i.e. unmarried couples).
If the above circumstances apply to you and you are considering making an Inheritance Act claim get in touch with our experts today by calling 0800 086 2929, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by completing our Free Online Enquiry Form.
What is the Inheritance Act 1975?
‘Inheritance Act’ refers to The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This Act allows the Court to make orders to help the family and dependants of someone who has died, if they have not been provided for. It is usually relevant where a widow or widower has been left out of the Will of their deceased spouse and so find themselves in financial need. If you are in the process of divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership, or simply have been separated for some time without formalising this, you may find your partner has made a Will which leaves nothing to you.
Who can make an Inheritance Act claim?
The Act lists who can make a claim under the Inheritance Act, which includes immediate family that might expect to be financially dependent on the deceased but also extends to anyone that was being financially supported by the deceased in a way that causes them to be dependent.
- Spouses or civil partners of the deceased,
- The deceased’s children,
- Those who were treated as children of the family which can include step-children
- Anyone that was being maintained by the deceased immediately before their death.
Cohabiting partners can also bring a claim provided they had been living with the deceased for at least two years up to the date of the death, so you are not necessarily prevented from making such a claim if you were not married to your partner.
We offer a free initial consultation, during which we can explore your relationship with the deceased to assess your ability to make an Inheritance Act claim.
What is the process for bringing Inheritance Act claims?
Before making your Court application, you should try to negotiate with the representatives of the deceased’s estate. These are usually called the Executors but there might be lawyers involved in managing the deceased’s estate. Inheritance Act claims can be expensive and so if there is a possibility for reaching a settlement without Court proceedings then this is likely to be cheaper and quicker for all involved.
If you think Court proceedings are necessary then an application has to be made to the Family Court. There is a strict procedure to follow before making your application, including setting out in writing the basis of your claim in full. You must meet this requirement, otherwise you are at risk of having to pay the costs of the representative of the estate at the end of the Court proceedings. You should also expect to have to give full disclosure of your finances to demonstrate that you are a dependant of the deceased person.
The application is made using the ‘Part 8’ procedure, which is for dealing with claims without elaborate proceedings. As well as the claim form, you would file all of your evidence in support alongside. Often such claims are dealt with at the earliest possible Court hearing although in some circumstances the claim can be dealt with on paper without the need to attend Court. If you do attend Court, you may not be required to give oral evidence if the Court considers the written evidence is sufficient to determine the claim.
What are the time limits for bringing Inheritance Act claims?
There are strict time limits for bringing an Inheritance Act claim and so it is best to take advice on your options as soon as possible. When a person dies, one or more persons will need to deal with the estate. They will be known as the Executors or Administrators. Their role includes valuing the estate for Inheritance Tax purposes, collecting in the assets and distributing these in accordance with either the Will or Intestacy. To do so, they apply to take out representation on behalf of the estate. Depending on whether there is a Will or not, this will be either the Grant of Probate, Letters of Administration or Letters of Administration with Will Annexed. This document confirms they have the authority to act on behalf of the Estate.
An Inheritance Act claim cannot be brought after 6 months from the date that the representation of the deceased is taken out. If permission is sought to bring a claim outside of this time limit, the Court will need to be satisfied that there is good reason for the delay in bringing the claim.
You can also bring an Inheritance Act claim before the representation is taken out. Therefore there is no reason to wait until the Executors or Administrators are making their application and negotiations should be started as soon as practicable.
How much does it cost to make an Inheritance Act claim?
The costs of bringing an Inheritance Act claim will vary on a case-by-case basis and the complexity of the arguments being made. Where possible, we would always attempt to negotiate a settlement as this will be quicker and cheaper for the parties involved. It can also often be the best outcome in practical terms, as disputes of this kind can be between family members who will continue to have relationships for the future and do not wish to create a lasting family argument.
If Court proceedings are necessary then the costs will inevitably increase. However, you may also be able to recover some or all of your costs from the estate in the event that your claim succeeds.
We would discuss the anticipated costs during our free initial consultation with you, so that you are best prepared for the range of possibilities. We will also discuss options for funding any proceedings that may need to take place.
What is “reasonable financial provision”?
“Reasonable Financial Provision” is defined within the Act and depends on your relationship to the deceased. For a former spouse or civil partner, it is the financial provision that would be reasonable in all circumstances for you to receive, regardless of whether that provision is required for your maintenance.
The Court have made clear that reasonable provision from a deceased’s estate is different to reasonable provision on divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.
A widow or widower is not the same as a divorced spouse, and this would not have been a conscious decision with both parties having their own needs and resources to consider for their future, separated, lives. The Court does have to consider what would have been the outcome if a divorce or dissolution had occurred instead of a death and this is used as a cross-check in assessing any case. However, whilst it may be that an outcome which matches that of a divorce is suitable, there are other scenarios where it is not.
For anyone that is not a former spouse or civil partner, it is the financial provision that would be reasonable in all circumstances for that person to receive for their maintenance. This is a much more subjective test and will depend on the specific circumstances. The Court will want to know how you were being maintained by the deceased, what financial support you were receiving and how long this was anticipated to continue for. There can be wider factors to consider such as whether you are able to become financially independent and, if so, what will be required for this to occur.
As reasonable financial provision is so specific to each individual case, we will explore your circumstances with you to best assess what is right for you. We empathise that conversations about your lifestyle and relationship can be difficult, especially following a death. Sympathy and support will always be at the forefront of our minds.
How will a Court decide if “reasonable financial provision” was made?
Once the Court has determined what a reasonable financial provision should have been, the Court will then need to decide if that reasonable provision was actually made. This will include any provision that you are intended to receive under any Will or intestacy, but also any provision made prior to the death if that is considered sufficient for you.
If the Court finds you should have received some provision from the deceased, and you do not receive anything under the terms of their Will, then it is likely that you haven’t been provided for.
Some cases will not be as clear cut, however, for example if you received something under the terms of a Will but there is a dispute about whether it is sufficient, or if you received a gift from the deceased prior to their death which addresses your need for financial support. We will therefore always need to discuss the individual facts of your case to fully understand what options you have available to you.
Will I need to attend Court if I bring an Inheritance Act claim?
You may have to attend Court if you bring an Inheritance Act claim, but this will depend on the complexity of the case and what is in dispute.
For more straightforward cases, the Court can choose to deal with the matter on the written evidence without the parties attending, so you will not be required at Court. For a more complex case, a Court hearing may be necessary.
If you attend Court, it is not always necessary for you to give oral evidence where you sit in the witness box and get cross examined on your statements. A Court may proceed on submissions, which will involve the parties or their legal representatives putting forward their case based on the documents filed.
If a Court hearing is necessary, we will always discuss representation with you to ensure that you are supported and comfortable with the process. Attending Court can appear stressful and clients are often anxious about the process, so we will always ensure that your matter is in the best hands.
How we can help with Inheritance Act claims
If you are considering making an Inheritance Act claim our experienced lawyers will be able to help. Our team understand how sensitive inheritance disputes can be and our first priority is always to works towards an amicable resolution where possible. We offer a free initial consultation, during which we can explore your relationship with the deceased to assess your ability to make such a claim.
If you are seeking to bring an an Inheritance Act claim get in touch with our expert Inheritance Act claims solicitors today by calling 0800 086 2929, emailing email@example.com or by completing our Free Online Enquiry Form.
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Partner and Head of Department
Family Law and Divorce
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