You have spent considerable time, money and effort building a case against your loved one’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Inheritance Act”) and it has been a long hard slog with attempts to settle being unsuccessful so you are on your way to trial.
What happens if you die unexpectedly before the trial takes place? Can your personal representatives (PRs) or beneficiaries continue the claim for you after your death? Who pays the costs incurred up to your death? How does your loved one’s estate get distributed after your death?
A Personal Claim
Unfortunately, an Inheritance Act claim is one of only a handful of claims which do not survive your death. In particular, it is notable that challenging the validity of a Will can be taken over by your PRs post-death but an Inheritance Act claim cannot.
The courts consider an Inheritance Act claim to be a “personal claim” meaning it is personal to you and your financial and health circumstances so once you die you cannot be considered to have any ongoing financial or health needs and as such your claim dies with you.
This was confirmed in the case of Roberts v Fresco (2017) where even the estate of a spouse was refused the right to continue with their Inheritance Act claim after their death. The judge confirmed that the time when the Court needed to determine the facts of an Inheritance Act claim is at the date of trial and the right to present those facts post-claimant’s death did not pass to their PRs or beneficiaries.
What happens to my case after I die?
What happens to your case after your death will depend on the stage of proceedings reached at the time of your death. If you haven’t started formal court proceedings yet and are engaged in pre-action correspondence then the likelihood is that the defendants will bear their costs and your estate will bear your costs but there is a possibility your loved one’s estate could apply to court for an order that some of their costs are borne by your estate. Your loved one’s estate will be distributed in accordance with their Will / Intestacy Rules as though your claim had never been pursued.
If you have started formal court proceedings and are heading towards trial then a Court Order will be necessary to bring the proceedings to an end. Negotiations will need to be entered into between the PRs of your estate and your loved one’s estate regarding who will pay the costs incurred to that point otherwise the Court will decide the issue when dismissing the claim at the point of notification of death. It is likely your estate will be ordered to pay your own costs and may be ordered to pay some of the costs of the defendants given the claim will be deemed not to have been successful. Your loved one’s estate will still be distributed in accordance with their Will / Intestacy Rules as though your claim had never been pursued.
Pause for Thought
Some Solicitors are not aware of this quirk of Inheritance Act claims which could be very dangerous, particularly for clients who are in poor health or elderly at the time the case is commenced. This is just one of the reasons why it is important that clients instruct specialist Solicitors who know the tactics which can be employed to try to speed up Inheritance Act claims to ensure that a judgment (or settlement) is achieved sooner rather than later before the right to bring the claim might be lost upon your death.
We would therefore always encourage potential clients to call us as soon as possible after their loved one’s death to discuss their potential claims and any concerns they have about the timing of such a claim and we will be happy to discuss your options.