Stephens Scown’s specialist Inheritance & Trust Disputes Team summarise the main claims you can pursue against an Estate in this second of two instalments below. For our First Instalment – click here.
A Claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 (“the 1975 Act”)
Following on from our First Instalment’s summary of who can claim under this Act we now consider the range of awards the Court can make for successful applicants.
Potentially the Court could award the entirety of an Estate to an applicant, though this is rare. The outcome can range from nothing to the entirety of the Estate and there are different standards the Court uses to determine what is reasonable for a spouse (where there is no limit on what is reasonable for them) as compared to other applicants (where their provision is limited to what is reasonable for their maintenance).
There are strict time limits which apply to pursuing this claim so the sooner you instruct a solicitor to pursue it the better.
You can also bring claims against your loved one’s Estate which are not strictly limited to circumstances where they have passed away (i.e. they are claims which could have been brought in their lifetime also).
If, for example, you have made financial contributions to the family home or farm as a result of promises made by the deceased to you that you would inherit part or all of it one day then you may have a claim for an interest in that property/farm (even if you are not on the legal title) under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act (TOLATA) 1996 or via legal principles termed a Constructive Trust or a Proprietary Estoppel.
This can also apply to non-property assets e.g. if you were promised a large sum of money or another specific asset of value which is not a property.
In order to succeed on such claims you would need to be able to prove the promise was made (or common intention was formed between you and the deceased) and that you relied on that to your detriment (usually your financial detriment). If successful on a claim under TOLATA (where actual financial contribution to the property can be evidenced) the Court will seek to provide you with an equivalent interest in the property relative to your contribution vs the value of the property. If successful on a constructive trust / proprietary estoppel claim the Court has much more discretion on how it can “satisfy the equity” to give you what you can be reasonably said to have expected from the promises made and your detriment.
Other claims which can link into all of the above are often claims to set aside lifetime transfers of assets / property on the grounds of undue influence or lack of capacity. Doing so can swell the value of the Estate against which you are claiming (or already entitled) if you succeed on setting the transaction aside so the asset falls back into the Estate on the death. One advantage of the undue influence ground here, as compared to undue influence to execute a Will, is that there is a presumption that undue influence took place between certain categories of individuals (e.g. spouses or parents/children) unless the contrary can be proven. This can make it easier to prove undue influence when a property / asset has been transferred during the deceased’s lifetime than if it has been left to someone who you don’t approve of in a Will.
Get a Specialist
There are a number of possible claims which can be pursued against an Estate when your loved one dies. However, these claims are complex and at times discretionary so it is imperative that you instruct a specialist to maximise your chances of a successful outcome.
Hayley Bundey is a solicitor in the inheritance and trust disputes team at Stephens Scown LLP. The team has recently retained its top tier ranking from Legal 500, an independent guide to the legal profession. The guide credits the team as ‘amongst the very best in the South West’ and highlights the ‘real specialist knowledge and strength in depth which it uses to good effect to get great results’. To get in touch with Hayley, please call 01392 210700, email firstname.lastname@example.org.