Posted On / 06.08.2018

Cohabitee whose partner left her nothing in his Will is awarded a cottage and £204,000 by the Court in inheritance claim

Earlier this year, the High Court in Cardiff made a substantial award to a woman who had made a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The case of Thompson v. Raggett shows that the Courts will go a long way to award reasonable provision, including giving a Claimant a house, even where the Claimant and the deceased were not married.  

Background  

Joan Thompson and Wynford Hodge lived together on a farm and caravan park in Pembrokeshire. Joan and one of her children had moved into a caravan at the farm in the late 1970s. Shortly afterwards, she moved into the farmhouse with Mr Hodge. She worked on the farm and caravan site without being paid, and she helped to care for Mr Hodge’s mother in the last 2 or 3 years of her life.  

As she grew older, Joan did not enjoy good health. She had a serious stroke and then heart attacks. Mr Hodge had prostate cancer, and the 2 were carers for each other. When their mobility became less, the couple moved into a caravan near to the farmhouse. Before he died, Mr Hodge bought a cottage with a view to moving into it with Joan, but in the event he did not live long enough for that to happen.  

Mr Hodge died on 19 December 2016 and he gave his entire estate, valued at just over £1.5 million, to 2 of his tenants. He gave nothing to Joan even though they had lived as man and wife for 42 years.  

Mr Hodge’s Will  

Mr Hodge made about 11 Wills over the years in which he gave his estate to various different people. In his final Will, dated 19 December 2016, he made no provision for Joan. He left a letter of wishes with his Will in which he wrote:  

“I do not want Joan or her children to inherit from my estate...I no longer want to leave my residuary estate on trust to pay the income to Joan for her life as this would be a substantial sum and I do not believe she will need it. Also due to Joan’s health I believe she would not be able to live in my property independently. I am Joan’s main carer and envisage she may have to go in to a home following my death. I confirm Joan has her own finances and is financially comfortable. Joan has her own money and her own savings."  

Mr Hodge's Estate  

In Mr Hodge's estate were the house occupied by the tenants to whom he had given his estate worth £343,000, the farm and caravan park at £545,000, an adjoining bungalow at £157,000, a cottage worth £225,000, a small parcel of land worth £5000, farm machinery and vehicles at £62,625 and savings and liquid assets of £168,000.  

Joan’s Position  

Joan was 79 years old. She received a state pension and disability living allowance totalling £1,114 per month. She had savings of just £2,500.  

A GP’s letter said:  

"This lady retains sufficient medical health not to require the facilities of a nursing home. She is certainly fit enough to reside in private accommodation... It is in her best interests that she does retain as much independence as possible".  

The Tenants  

The beneficiaries of Mr Hodge’s Will were tenants of one of his properties. The Court found that Mr Hodge had assumed little if any responsibility towards them during his lifetime.  

The Court’s Decision  

Where a couple cohabit but are not married, a claim can be made for reasonable provision under the 1975 Act. The tenants conceded that the Will did not make reasonable provision for Joan.  

That being the case, the Court could order such financial provision as it would be reasonable for Joan to receive for her maintenance but could not, under the rules, award capital since she and Mr Hodge were not married.  

The Court could make provision for housing for Joan, but in the recent case of Ilott v. The Blue Cross, the Supreme Court observed that "if housing is provided by way of maintenance, it is likely more often to be provided by…a life interest than by a capital sum." Often, therefore, a Court will lean towards giving a Claimant a life interest in a property rather than awarding it to them outright.  

In Joan’s case, however, the Court decided that it was reasonable to award her accommodation in which the tenants had no future interest. That approach was likely to help all concerned to move on from the litigation, and would enable Joan to take decisions relating to her home, such as making structural alterations or raising money on it, without needing to seek permission from anyone else.  

Though the Court did not say so, it may also have thought that Joan’s son (with whom she had recently been reconciled) and daughter-in-law would be more likely to stick around and care for Joan if they thought that they might inherit the cottage when she died.  

The Court therefore awarded Joan the cottage outright.  

The Court also awarded Joan £10,000 to make adjustments to the property to cater for her disability, £5,000 to cover Joan’s costs of moving in, £28,844.68 for furniture and adaptations, and finally £160,000 for future costs and expenses, including care and holidays.  

Conclusion  

This case provides helpful confirmation that even where couples were not married, the Court can go a long way towards awarding the Claimant capital and assets. Although the Court’s award should provide for the Claimant’s maintenance only, the Court can if the case justifies it make an award of maintenance comprising both ownership of a house to provide for accommodation and also a significant cash sum.  

Contact Battens if you are living together but not married and need to make a Will, or if your partner has died and you think that they have not provided properly for you in their Will.  peter.livingstone@battens.co.uk

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For more information on inheritance disputes click here or contact Peter Livingstone on 01935 846235 peter.livingstone@battens.co.uk

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