The legendary and much loved Muhammad Ali has recently passed away leaving behind a substantial legacy to be distributed between his loved ones.
Ali is thought to have left a will but taking into account his extensive family and wealth it is highly possible that a ferocious legal battle is likely to take place.
Ali was married four times and had nine children including an adopted son and two daughters outside of marriage. The potential pool of beneficiaries is therefore rather large.
Ali’s only biological son, Muhammed Ali Jr is living in poverty in Chicago and the feeling between him and Ali’s widow Lonnie is already bitter as he blames her for cutting him out of his life in his last few years. It is believed that he and Ali’s brother, Rahman are already challenging the will with Lonnie, who is believed to be the executor as they fear they may have been left out.
In England and Wales, if a will fails to make ‘reasonable financial provision’ for a family member or dependant (specified in the Act) then they can make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (‘IPFDA’). In order to bring a successful claim, they need to show that the will failed to make reasonable financial provision for them. The court will then consider all of the evidence, including the size of the estate, the needs and resources of the applicant and the needs and resources of all the other beneficiaries before deciding whether to make the applicant an award.
If this dispute were to take place in England and Wales, then under English law Rahman and Muhammed Ali Jr would both be entitled to bring a claim under the IPFDA. For Rahman’s claim to be successful he would need to show that he was being ‘maintained’ by Ali i.e. that he was reliant upon him for money immediately before death. Muhammed Ali Jr is entitled to claim as he is the son of Ali but traditionally, the position has always been that it is unlikely for an able bodied, adult child to bring a successful claim under the act. However, recent case law suggests that the courts are becoming more sympathetic towards these types of claims and it is possible that he would be entitled to claim something, especially in view of the size of the estate. Lonnie could also bring a claim but as she is a surviving spouse she is entitled to such financial provision as is reasonable in the circumstance, regardless of whether it is needed for her maintenance and so may receive a higher amount depending on whether she receives anything at all from his will. Ultimately though, the decision is up to the court which will decide not whether the decision to omit the applicant from the will was fair but whether it is unfair not to provide them with something. These types of claims are not without risk as the usual cost rule of the loser pays the winner’s costs applies.
Therefore, it is always important to remember that if you clearly state who you wish to inherit in your will. It is particularly crucial if you want to leave part of your legacy to step-children who are not covered under the legal definition of ‘children’ as otherwise they could be set to lose out and receive no inheritance at all. Their only hope would then be to bring a successful claim under the IPFDA on the basis that they were treated as the deceased’s child and had not received reasonable financial provision under the will.