22 February 2023

In a High Court decision this month, Harbans Kaur has been awarded half of the estate of her deceased husband, having asked the Court to overturn the provisions of his Will which gave everything to their sons.

Mr Kaur died in August 2021. He and his wife were married in 1955 and had therefore been together for 66 years. During that time, she had given birth to and brought up their 7 children, as well as working without a salary for the family clothing business. At the time of the hearing, she was aged 83.

In his Will, the claimant's husband had given all his estate, worth nearly £2 million, to their two sons. One of the sons had moved into the former matrimonial home, causing her to have to live somewhere else.

In this country, it is generally possible to leave your estate to whoever you like. There is, however, power under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1974 for certain people, including widows and widowers, to apply to the Court and to to say that their spouse’s Will did not make reasonable provision for them.

In this case, the principal defendants were the two sons to whom the estate had been given. One of them told the Court that he did not oppose his mother's claim. The other was less helpful, however. When he was first served with the proceedings by post, he returned the envelope marked "Return to sender”. When he was later personally served with Court papers, he threw them into a wheelie bin.

The Court found it very easy to decide that the Will, which gave nothing to the claimant, did not make reasonable provision for her.

As to how much she should receive, the Court in these cases asks itself the question: What would the claimant reasonably have expected to receive if the marriage, instead of being ended by death, had been ended by divorce? The surviving spouse should not ordinarily be worse off as a widow than she would as a divorcee.

The claimant said that she wanted half of the estate. The Court agreed that that was the appropriate order to make.

Interestingly, the Court did not in its judgment say much about the fact that the deceased had given his estate only to the male members of his family. It is not clear whether the daughters also contemplated claims - perhaps they would have received part of the estate if they had.