The provisions of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 allow for specific classes of claimant to bring a claim. These include the spouse or partner of the deceased, their children or anyone treated as “a child of the family”. The Act itself defines a “child of the family” as
“any person (not being a child of the deceased) who in relation to any marriage or civil partnership to which the deceased was at any time a party, or otherwise in relation to any family in which the deceased at any time stood in the role of a parent, was treated by the deceased as a child of the family.”
This definition gives scope for claimants to bring claims against grandparents if they “stood in the role of a parent” and also against the estates of step-parents (even after a divorce).
One of the key cases about how the Courts will approach a “child of the family” is Re Leach which saw a 55 year old stepdaughter successfully claim against the estate of her stepmother. In that case the Court found that the two of them had a particularly close relationship and although they had not lived together and the Claimant had not been maintained by the deceased she had indeed been treated as a daughter by her stepmother.
More recently the Court has allowed a claim by an adult stepson against his late stepfather’s Estate. In Higgins v Morgan & Others the Court had to consider whether provision should be made from the Estate of Stewart Neville Higgins who died intestate. Under the intestacy provisions the Estate would pass to six surviving cousins and the estate of a deceased cousin of the late Mr Higgins.
His stepson, Barrie Higgins, argued that Stewart Higgins had told him that a Will had been made that provided for him and for his sister, both of whom had been treated by Mr Higgins as his children. Indeed, the claimant’s mother left the family home 6 years after she married Mr Higgins, leaving both of her children living with him.
In this case the claimant – although an adult and on his third marriage – was able to demonstrate financial need and brought the claim on the basis that the intestacy rules failed to make reasonable financial provision for him. His claim was calculated on the basis of his needs to meet an income deficit for 10 years, to pay his debts and to provide him with a contingency fund. The estate was worth less than £200,000.
In this particular case the Judge found that the assurances given by Stewart Higgins to Barrie Higgins amounted to a “moral claim” which Stewart’s intestacy failed to discharge. An award was made to Barrie with the Court taking account of the close relationship between the claimant and the deceased and the lack of such close relationship with the distant cousins who defended the claim and stood to inherit under the intestacy provisions.
Grandparents and step-parents who stand in the shoes of a parent to a “child” should look carefully at such cases and consider, in light of the possibility that a claim might be brought, whether they owe any obligation to a grandchild or a step-child. Such situations will not be common but where they exist, making provision may save the costs of a claim being brought against the Estate later on. Equally, leaving a clear note stating why no provision is to be made can also assist a Court if issues are raised.
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