No doubt, most of you will have heard about the recent decision in the case of Illott v Blue Cross (previously Mitson). This was the case where an adult child, estranged from her late mother claimed against the estate for reasonable financial provision. The mother had left a letter of wishes with her will expressly excluding the daughter and left the majority of her £486,000 estate to charity. In March of this year, The Supreme Court upheld an earlier award of £50,000 for the daughter to enable her to purchase white items for her home. The Supreme Court’s decision highlighted the need for an adult child claimant under the Inheritance Act’s award to be limited to their maintenance. It considered that the period of estrangement was relevant and only awarded 10% of the value of the estate.
A similar case has since come before the courts in the case of Nahajec v Fowle this is the first Inheritance Act Claim to be heard since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Illot.
So how does the recent decision in Nahajec differ from the Illott matter and what does this mean for people bringing or defending claims against an estate?
The Nahajec case involved a father (Stanley Nahajec) who died in July 2015 leaving an estate worth £265,710. Stanley left nothing to his three children and instead left his entire estate to his friend, Stephen Fowle. His daughter Elena brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for claiming she needed maintenance to complete a veterinary course. Elena and Stanley, like the daughter in Ilott, had been estranged for some years. Stanley’s son, Mark was unable to work due to ill health and he had also brought a claim against Stanley’s estate which settled for £22,000. His other son, Philip chose not to bring a claim against the estate.
The Judge considered all factors in the claim including the period of estrangement and found this was not of Elena’s making, who had tried to make up with her father. He also found that she had a need for maintenance to fund her veterinary course. In the circumstances, he awarded her the sum of £30,000, which amounts to 11% of the value of Stanley’s estate.
So how does his decision compare with the Illott matter and has anything actually changed since Illott? Following Illot, it was widely assumed that a period of estrangement between the child and the parent could have a detrimental effect on the adult child’s Inheritance Act Claim. In this case, the Claimant received 11% of the Deceased’s estate which is a similar amount to what the Claimant received in Illot. This suggests that whilst estranged child claims are not worthless, an estranged child will need to show that there is a need for maintenance in order to receive an award. In particular, it suggests that it is useful if the adult child can show they had attempted to reconcile with the parent on a number of occasions. In both of these cases, the daughters had made multiple unsuccessful attempts at reconciliation.
Furthermore, in both cases, the deceased left a letter of wishes setting out their reasons for disinheriting the child as is the common practice in such circumstances. Whilst the court took the letter of wishes into account, these rulings suggest that if the child has specific maintenance needs then the likelihood is that the court will make an award for them albeit a relatively low one. The Nahajec case, therefore really hasn’t changed anything in terms of the law, adult children can still bring claims as they always could but it has supported the Illott decision which demonstrates that an adult claimant still needs to demonstrate strong need for maintenance and even then is likely to receive a relatively low award.