The case of Ames v Jones  EW Misc B67 (CC) is a timely reminder of the need for claimants seeking financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 to prove their case.
Danielle Ames, brought her stepmother, Elaine Ames, to court in a battle over her father’s fortune. Mr Ames, who ran a successful London glazing business, passed away in 2013 and left his entire £1m+ estate to his wife, Elaine.
Miss Ames insisted that she was due ‘reasonable provision’ from the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. She claimed that she was dependent on her father, idolised him and that he doted on her as his only child.
Judge Halpern, however, considered her to be an unreliable witness and would not believe her evidence unless it was corroborated or inherently likely. It was agreed that her financial circumstances should be considered in the light of her ‘family unit’ with her partner and two children. However, she failed to provide sufficient evidence to that end and was unable to give answers to key questions throughout the trial.
Miss Ames alleged that she had a monthly deficit of £2,000 per month. However, the defendant’s barrister pointed out in cross examination that her debts since the deceased’s death should therefore have accumulated to £80k instead of £15,200 that she claimed she owed.
Miss Ames had also alleged that her father had funded her lifestyle. One factor supporting this claim is that Mr Ames assisted her in setting up her business in 2007.
Although Elaine’s evidence was, at times, also unreliable, the judge concluded that this was not through any deliberate attempt to make the evidence sui the facts. He found that her income was fairly moderate and her entitlement under the estate was the only security in her old age. Any reduction in her income would leave Elaine with insufficient provision for her maintenance.
Judge Halpern concluded that Miss Ames’s choice for not working was a ‘lifestyle choice’, rather than as a result of a special circumstance and that alone was sufficient to defeat her claim.
Miss Ames had ultimately failed to discharge the burden of proving her current and future needs and resources and the judge thought it was reasonable for Mr Ames to make the will in the terms that he did.
Miss Ames was also ordered to pay Elaine’s costs and to make an interim payment of £34,000.
Many commentators have sought to compare this case with the other very well known disinherited daughter claim of Ilott v Mitson which is due to be heard in the Supreme Court on 12 December 2016. The key difference between these cases is that, in Ilott, the question largely focused on the reasonableness or otherwise of any award. Although the true nature of the relationship between the daughter and, in that case, her mother was called into question, the evidence was largely accepted, in particular regarding the claimant’s financial circumstances.
In this case, the claimant altogether failed to provide sufficient evidence, whether by way of financial proof or corroborating witness evidence, to support her claims.
As such, and contrary to what some may think, adult children are not precluded from bringing claims against their parents’ estates where they have been disinherited. However, in order to bring a successful claim it is essential that you have the financial evidence to support your claim and that you can demonstrate that you have financial needs now and in the foreseeable future, often to include those of any long-term partner or spouse/civil partner, which cannot be met by your current resources.