The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the 1975 Act”) allows certain applicants to recover money from the Estate of a deceased person if they have been unfairly excluded.
One of the factors the Court is obliged to consider in any claim under the 1975 Act is the “conduct of the applicant or any other person, which in the circumstances of the case the Court may consider relevant”.
By the time a 1975 Act claim arrives at Court it’s quite possible issues of past conduct have been raised by one of the parties. ‘Conduct’ is simply anything said or done by anyone (including the deceased) which is specifically relevant to the claim. All 1975 Act claims require a substantial degree of gazing into the past, as well as looking forward to the future financial needs of the applicant and the beneficiaries. Looking back at the deceased’s life will help understand how and why they made their testamentary wishes and sometimes this will mean a certain degree of dredging up the past. This can be a difficult and painful exercise. Parties to a claim (or even witnesses with no interest in the Estate) often recall events that might have had a considerable bearing on how and why the deceased came to draw up their Will. It may be a particular event, a long running feud or disapproval of an individual’s life choices. There is endless scope for those matters which can be raised under the heading of ‘conduct’. But reported cases where conduct had a significant impact on the outcome of a 1975 Act claim are quite rare.
One such case was Wright v Wright (2014) where an understanding of what had long past was fundamental to the outcome where the deceased was estranged from the applicant daughter, with whom she had not spoken for some nine years before her death. The bulk of the deceased mother’s Estate was eventually left to her son and nothing to the daughter. The daughter launched a 1975 Act claim on the basis of her poor financial position and health. However, some years before her death the deceased received a letter written in anger in 2001 by the daughter which wished her dead, such was the level of animosity. There were other incidents such as whether a sum of £10,000 was owed by the daughter to the deceased. Although the judge accepted that the daughter had helped the deceased run a shop when she was younger for little or no pay and took note of her poor financial position and health, he still found her conduct by writing the letter was so bad that it outweighed the other factors in her favour. The claim failed on the basis any obligation owed by the deceased was discharged by the daughter’s later conduct.
But it would be wrong to assume that conduct will be closely examined in every 1975 Act claim. That is not the case and the Court will not usually wish to be embroiled in a forensic analysis of every criticism, row and fallout that may have had a bearing on the deceased’s testamentary decisions. Otherwise there would be a danger of descending into accusation and counter accusation which may not only be mostly irrelevant but also substantially increases the chances of the each party becoming further entrenched. This in turn lessens the chances of reaching a compromise to prevent an expensive trip to Court. It can be very difficult for the parties involved to overlook conduct, as we all have memories and perspectives that closely shape our understanding of the people around us. However, it’s important to concentrate on all the factors the Court shall take into account, not just those buried deep in the past which at first glance appear in any party’s favour. All 1975 Act claims are concerned with financial matters for the future and are not a stage for passing comment on the past actions of the deceased or the other parties.
If you have any queries concerning any contentious probate matter, please call Noel McNicholas on 01455 620805 or by email – firstname.lastname@example.org.