Step Child Wins 1975 Inheritance Act Claim against Step Mother’s Family

Our client, Mr S, was the step-son of Mrs S following her marriage to Mr S’s father, K, in 1976. K died in 1995 leaving the entirety of his estate to Mrs S who then died herself on 27th June 2010, having executed a new Will on 15th June 2010.

Under the terms of her last Will Mrs S appointed her sister B and her niece N as executors. She gifted £10,000 to B with the residue of the estate to N and her brother C as well B’s grandchildren S and Ch.

The estate was declared for probate to be over £600,000.00.

The client had concerns that Mrs S had executed the last Will only days before her death when she was suffering from a brain tumour. We investigated the possibility of challenging the validity of the Will but ultimately he did not proceed with that claim because it would have necessitated him also challenging Mrs S’s earlier Will (under which he also did not receive sufficient provision). Challenging one Will was hard enough but two was much more difficult. Accordingly, Mr S proceeded solely with a claim as a child of Mrs S’s family for reasonable financial provision under section 1(1)(d) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 (“the 1975 Act”).

As a “child of the family” applicant Mr S firstly had to prove that he was eligible to pursue the claim. As a step-son he was not automatically entitled to do so claim under the 1975 Act in the same way  a  child is automatically entitled to do so on production of their birth certificate. Mr S therefore relied upon the fact that K had left his mother for Mrs S when he was only 16 and his relationship with K and Mrs S grew to be a strong one. After K’s death, his relationship with Mrs S flourished not least because he had promised his father that he would look after her like she was his mother. They often went on holiday together and Mrs S ensured she gifted some of the proceeds of K’s French property to Mr S when K died.

Mr S relied upon the following subsections of section 3 of the 1975 Act in support of his claim:-

  • 3(1)(a)- the financial need for provision (particularly the level of his debts and need for capital to secure his future in retirement) as compared to;
  • 3(1)(c)- B, K, C, S and Ch’s lesser need for provision;
  • 3(1)(e)- the estate was of a sufficient size to make provision for him as well as the remaining beneficiaries
  • 3(1)(d) and (g)- the deceased’s conduct in promising to provide for Mr S over many years coupled with the obligation which her estate owed to make provision for Mr S given that she had inherited K’s estate and it was K’s inheritance from his own father which had made the largest contribution to setting K and Mrs S up in business- a business which fed directly into the value of Mrs S’s estate.

A limitation standstill of Mr S’s claim was entered into so that Mr S did not need to issue court proceedings by the 6 month deadline  following the date of the Grant of Probate. This enabled the parties to exchange a letter of claim and letter of response and set up arrangements for mediation.

Settlement terms were reached at mediation in January 2013 whereby Mr S received one quarter of the net estate, inclusive of payment of his legal costs. However, as S and Ch were minor children this was not the end of the matter and it was necessary to apply to the court for approval of  the terms of settlement (a requirement the Court Rules insist upon where money due to children is being varied). The Court approved the terms of settlement  and the administration of the estate was then completed.

The facts of this case are not uncommon where second families are concerned. We are regularly consulted by step-children whose parent has left their estate to a new spouse who then passes the estate on to their own family by a previous marriage – disinheriting the step child. This case was complicated by concerns surrounding the deceased’s capacity to execute the Will, but ultimately came down to trying to get back to a position which was fair. The executors of the estate were sensible and willing to recognise what was fair in this situation so that settlement at mediation was, in the end, reasonably straight forward.

Step-child 1975 Act claims can be more difficult than conventional adult child 1975 Act claims due to the added hurdle of proving that an applicant satisfies the “child of the family” definition. However, this case is a good example of how obtaining enough background evidence to support the nature of that relationship (and thus the unfair outcome from the Will) can make the difference in encouraging sensible parties to settle a claim without extensive litigation costs reducing the assets of the estate.

If you are a step child wishing to make an Inheritance Act claim then give us a call for a free assessment of your case on 0808 139 1596