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Disinherited adult children: estranged and left empty-handed?

View profile for Victoria Raven
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It is not uncommon for adult children who have been estranged from their parents to be left out of their parents’ Will. However, if that child believes they should have been reasonably provided for, there may be hope by way of a claim brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Generally, compensation is most often awarded to Claimants who can demonstrate an obvious need for their maintenance. This could be a medical need, or a financial dependence, insofar as the lack of provision would be significantly detrimental on the dependant.

In Re H (Deceased) [2020], an adult daughter was successful in her claim for provision against her late father’s Estate. She was awarded costs for psychotherapy, a contribution towards a house deposit and legal fees. However, the matter was not straightforward; the Court did not go so far as to award her anything for her claim for housing needs and the case has gone to appeal.

Claims by adult children are not without their challenges. As stated in Ilott v Mitson [2018] , simply being a child is “not always enough”. In Wellesley v Earl Cowley [2019], the Court took the Claimant daughter’s conduct into account when finding that, despite her being in genuine need, with a psychiatric condition and on benefits, she was not entitled to a portion of the deceased Earl Cowley’s estate. In the more recent case of Miles & Shearer v Shearer [2021], whereby two daughters claimed against their late father’s estate, it was found that they had been well provided for during his lifetime and could not demonstrate sufficient need for maintenance.

Although these cases demonstrate a reluctance by the Court to award compensation to adult children, there is still scope if the circumstances are right. The Court will consider aspects such as the relationship between the child and the deceased, their conduct, and whether or not the claimant can demonstrate a need for maintenance, as well as the size of the estate.

Rochford v Rochford [2020] demonstrates the circumstances in which a claim can succeed. In this case, a daughter, Lynne, had experienced an abusive relationship with her father as a child, following his separation from her mother. Lynne had a son and later developed a spinal degenerative disease in her thirties which prevented her from working. Despite the difficulties with her relationship with her father, Lynne made numerous efforts to reconcile and, at one point, she was due to receive the residue of her father’s estate under his Will. However, they later fell out again and he made a new Will, leaving the residue of his Estate to his sister, Ilva, and Lynne’s son, James, and just £25,000 to Lynne. The Court considered the circumstances, including the fact that James was being provided for by his own father, that Lynne could not work and had a very small pension pot, that Ilva’s financial resources and needs were minimal and that any inheritance would be considered a “windfall” to Ilva. The Court also considered the size and nature of the Estate, which was approximately £190,000. Although Lynne’s financial resources and needs were relevant, any award needed to reflect the modest size of the Estate. Lynne was awarded £85,000 in addition to the £25,000 she was entitled to under the Will.

If these circumstances sound familiar, the first place to start is by obtaining advice from a legal professional, who can advise whether or not your claim has potential. If the case is considered and prepared properly, there may be scope for an award. There are certainly obstacles to be met along the way, but with our legal advice, we can assist you to obtain the best possible result.

If you have any questions in relation to issues raised in this article, please contact Victoria Raven in Hughes Paddison’s Litigation Team at vlr@hughes-paddison.co.uk.