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11 April 2018 | Comment | Article by Roman Kubiak TEP

Hugh James successfully recovers inheritance for lifelong elderly partner


Hugh James contested wills, trusts and estates team, recently acted for the lifelong partner of a deceased and successfully recovered a significant inheritance following a trial in the Cardiff High Court.

The High Court has ruled in favour of Joan Thompson, aged 79, represented by Hugh James, who successfully challenged the distribution of her late partner Wynford Hodge’s estate, out of which she was written.

Mrs Thompson successfully pursued an Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 claim against her late partner who left his whole estate, valued at £1,535,060, to tenants and friends under his will instead of her.

Find more information on our Contested Wills, Trusts & Estates department. Or if you want to discuss any issues raised in this article contact us today.

In this case, the High Court granted Mrs Thompson reasonable provision for her maintenance by way of an outright transfer of one of Mr. Hodge’s properties, valued at £225,000, which had been purchased with a view to them retiring in it. Mrs Thompson was also granted £160,000 for her future maintenance and care, plus £28,845 to renovate the property and facilitate her moving in.

Hugh James said:

“This judgment further paves the way for cohabitees, who currently have no statutory rights to their partner’s estate, to use the courts to get financial provision that reflects their contribution to the relationship.

“Since the well-known Supreme Court decision in Ilott v The Blue Cross and others*, one of the main issues for courts to consider is the provision of accommodation by way of a life interest, rather than a capital transfer, as well as reinforcing the principle of testamentary freedom.

“However, this case is particularly noteworthy as the judge recognised that it was not an absolute rule and decided to depart from it by providing an outright transfer of the cottage to Mrs. Thompson rather than just a life interest.”

“The key drivers for this outcome were the length of their relationship, her financial dependency upon Mr. Hodge and to prevent her having to ask the ultimate beneficiaries for permission to renovate the property or raise capital against it.”

In his letter of wishes accompanying his last will, Mr. Hodge claimed that Mrs. Thompson had substantial sums and finances to provide for herself. Mrs. Thompson submitted that this was not the case and that she had always been financially dependent upon Mr. Hodge, who had assumed responsibility for all financial matters, including collecting her pension for her.

The court accepted that Mrs. Thompson was financially dependent upon Mr. Hodge and, given the 42 years of cohabitation and the unpaid work she carried out on the caravan park and farm, coupled with her financial dependency, awarded her approximately 33% of the net estate.

* [2017] UKSC 17

Find more information on our Contested Wills, Trusts & Estates department. Or if you want to discuss any issues raised in this article contact us today.

Author bio

Roman Kubiak is a partner and head of the market leading Contested Wills, Trusts and Estates team.

He advises across the whole spectrum of private wealth disputes, with a particular focus on high value, complex and cross-border disputes including: trust disputes, breach of trust claims and applications to remove trustees; will disputes, particularly those with an international element; claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975; and claims for equitable relief under proprietary estoppel, constructive trusts and resulting trusts.

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