Court awards estranged daughter £30,000 from her father's estate
In a recent County Court case (Nahajec v Fowle 2017 EW Misc 11 CC) an adult daughter who had had very little contact with her father for several years before his death was awarded £30,000 after making a claim against his estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
The deceased left his estate of £265,000 to a close friend, who had helped to look after him when he became ill. The Will was accompanied by a letter of wishes explaining that the deceased had not seen or heard from any of his three children for 18 years. The letter also said that the deceased believed that all of his children were to his knowledge “sufficiently independent of means not to require any provision from me”. The letter of wishes concluded that the deceased did not feel it was necessary or appropriate to make provision for his three children in his Will. The claimant was one of the children.
There had been no relationship between the claimant and the deceased following her mother’s separation from the deceased in about 1996. Contact started in 2007 and it broke down again in 2009 due to the deceased not approving of the claimant’s new boyfriend. The claimant said that from 2009 she had tried to re-establish the relationship, but had been rejected by the deceased and that, ultimately, the absence of a relationship between them was the choice of the deceased and not in any way hers.
The claimant brought a claim under the 1975 Act for reasonable financial provision from the estate. In determining a claim under the Act, the judge must consider several factors including: the financial resources of the claimant and the other beneficiaries now and in the future; the size and nature of the estate; any disability of the claimant; and any other matter, including the conduct of the parties.
In this particular case the claimant was in debt and had a relatively low income from her two jobs, one in a veterinary practice and the other as a sales assistant. She wished to train as a veterinary nurse and had been working additional hours for free at the veterinary practice in order to gain experience.
The judge was impressed by the claimant’s evidence at trial and believed her account of the circumstances of her relationship with her father, which was supported by evidence from her half-brother. The judge regarded the claimant as a daughter who very much regretted the absence of a relationship with her father and had made attempts to revive the relationship.
The judge gave limited weight to the letter of wishes, noting that whilst it was an important factor to consider, the letter was based on the erroneous belief that the deceased’s children were sufficiently financially independent not to require any provision under his Will.
The judge concluded that the claimant was leading“a rather frugal existence”and only making ends meet with the help of expensive payday loans. Furthermore, the size of the estate was such as to justify provision for the claimant, even taking into account the financial needs of the defendant and the other two children.
The judge concluded that the Will failed to make reasonable financial provision and that an appropriate award was £30,000. The award was based on the judge’s best estimate of the cost of maintenance for a period of time to allow the claimant to undertake a course to provide her with a veterinary nurse qualification.
The case shows that it is still possible for adult children to make claims under the 1975 Act and be successful where they can show special circumstances that warrant an award. In the case of estranged adult children, it will help if they can show a history of attempts to reconcile.
Parents who don’t wish to make provision for their children in their Wills should raise the matter with their Solicitor so that steps can be taken to minimise the risk of a similar claim being made.
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