The case of Miles and Shearer v Shearer reported this week demonstrates the difficulties faced by adult children seeking to claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
In England and Wales we have testamentary freedom, which means that people can leave their estate to whomever they choose in their Will without any legal obligation to provide for any particular family members or other individuals.
Can you dispute a Will?
However, certain categories of people can make an application for financial provision from the deceased’s estate if reasonable financial provision has not been made for them.
Under Section 1 (1) ( c ), a child of the deceased is ‘an eligible’. In making its assessment of the case the court will apply a two stage test:
- has there been a failure to make reasonable financial provision for the applicant;
and if so,
- what order should be made?
Under section 1 (2) (b), ‘reasonable financial provision’ for adult children is limited to what would be reasonable for their maintenance.
So do I have to leave maintenance in my Will?
There is no statutory definition of ‘maintenance’ but Lord Hughes at paragraph 14 of Ilott v The Blue Cross & Ors  UKSC 17 stated that maintenance
Section 3 (1) sets out a number of factors that the court should consider when applying the two-stage test:
- the financial resources and needs of the applicant;
- the financial resources and needs of any other applicant;
- the financial resources and needs of the beneficiaries;
- any obligations and responsibilities of the deceased towards any applicant and any beneficiary;
- the size and nature of the estate of the deceased;
- any physical or mental disability of any applicant or beneficiary;
- any other matter, including conduct, which the court may consider relevant.
Inheritance act claim of Miles and Shearer v Shearer
The facts of the case were that the claimants were the two adult daughters (Juliet and Lauretta) of the late Anthony Presley Shearer who died on the 12th October 2017.
They sought an order that reasonable financial provision be made for them from the estate of their father pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
The deceased had been married to their mother for 34 years and their marriage was dissolved in 2007. The deceased’s Will made no provision for his daughters.
The principal beneficiary of his Will was his second wife who he married shortly after the dissolution of his first marriage.
Letter from the deceased to his adult daughter
The step mother’s evidence was that the deceased did not always enjoy seeing his daughters because he know the encounter would end in a request for money which he found distasteful.
The deceased also found it hurtful that his daughters referred to him as the ‘chequebook.’
In 2008 he wrote to Lauretta following her request for money, the relevant parts provide:
“Last night you mentioned money a number of times ... as you did when we came to you for dinner a few weeks ago. I really do not want there to be any surprises/disappointments on this subject. But the fact that you mention it so often means that it may already be a subject of friction, or that it could become a subject of friction in the future.
“First, your mother has half of my money (including my pensions). So I have less to spend/invest/waste/pass on.
“Second, Pam and I intend to live for a long time and we intend to spend all of our money. It would be wrong for you to have any expectations, and in any event there is not likely to be very much to pass on.
“Third, I am not expecting any money from my mother, and it has been at times pretty distasteful to see how Bridgett has viewed her potential inheritance from that source. I would not want you to feel the same way. It gives the impression at times that Bridgett feels that she has a right to some say in how granny spends/invests/wastes her own money.
“Fourth, you might have heard that I inherited a lot of money from Betty and John through Quarter. That is a very different story, and indeed keeping Quarter going before I sold it cost me a very great deal of money and effort. After the taxes and costs that I have paid, the net amount was not that great.
“Fifth, over the last 35 years or so I have spent a great deal of money providing the family lifestyle (e.g. holidays, education, etc etc). I have also provided substantial deposits for both you and Juliet. Once I started working aged 19 I never expected any money from my father or mother. They paid for the occasional 3 or 4 day trip at Christmas in Arosa and they gave me the odd present at Christmas/birthday. They did provide money for a small deposit on your mother's and my first house. So I think that you have already received almost everything that you can expect.
“I am delighted that you are now earning a decent salary and well done to you for that. But from now on you are on your own financially. I would not approve of it any other way. You can expect the odd present (probably a lot smaller than you might think appropriate) and my love, company, advice and support etc.
“I hope that you will take this in the right way and we can put this subject to rest."
Miles and Shearer v Shearer claim: the verdict
Judge Flaux dismissed the claims, agreeing with counsel for the stepmother saying:
“that the evidence, particularly of Juliet and Jennifer, was imbued with and influenced by a sense of entitlement to inherit from Tony’s estate to support a standard of living for Juliet and Lauretta and their children that Juliet and Lauretta had enjoyed until their young adulthood, prior to their parents’ divorce. This contributed to the lack of objectivity of their evidence.”
Both claimants were adult children who had lived their own lives and had made their own lifestyle decisions without any further financial assistance from their father after the gifts in 2008.
Neither claimant could evidence a need for maintenance that could not be made by adjustments to their own lifestyles.
Results of inheritance tax claims by adult children
There have recently been a number of reported inheritance claims by adult children. All cases turn on the particular facts of each particular case.
This case demonstrates the difficulties adult, able-bodied children of full mental capacity may have in making such claims where they are not being financially maintained by the deceased at the date of their death.
Wills and Probate solicitors: make your wishes known
You should make your requirements known by ensuring your Will is kept valid and updated.