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Estranged daughter left out of Will wins court battle

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A recent case has shed some light on the types of claims adult children can make when they are left out of a parent’s Will.

In Nahajec v Fowle [2017] EW Misc 11 (CC) (July 2017), the Claimant was the adult daughter of the deceased. She and her half siblings had been left out their estranged father’s Will. The claim was successful and she was awarded £30,000. The case is notable for its fascinating facts, curious decision, and interesting ramifications.

The Facts

The Claimant had little to no relationship with her late father. However, the Court found that this was the fault of the father, and not the daughter. In his judgment, His Honour Judge Saffman wrote:

“I regard this matter not as though the claimant were a prodigal daughter who has only reappeared when there is the possibility of some money to be had but rather a daughter who has very much regretted the absence of a relationship with her father and who, despite the fact that that absence [of] a relationship was one for which she was not at fault, has consistently tried to rekindle it.”

Interestingly the Claimant did not argue that she was unable to meet her monthly expenses at the time of the trial. Rather, she argued that she needed money to enable her to obtain the skills to better her condition. The daughter sought £70,000, which included approximately £14,000 for tuition fees so she could become a veterinary nurse. This was a rather speculative claim, since the daughter had to first retake her GCSEs in maths and dual science. This also included a claim for £16,000 to finance a car and driving lessons, as the claimant argued a car was required to attend possible future work placements.

The last fact worth highlighting is the scathing letter of wishes that the father wrote to Mr Fowle, a friend of the Deceased's who was set to receive everything under the Deceased's Will.

The note stated:

“I have not seen or heard from any of my children in the last 18 years and I do not believe they have any interest in me or my welfare. All of my children are of independent means and have or have had their own life and family are, to my knowledge, sufficiently independent of means not to require any provision from me … I trust that you as my executor will respect my wishes and ensure that they receive no benefit whatsoever thereunder”.

This type of note is not uncommon however in this case the Court gave it little weight, likely because the Court considered that it was made on false premises. First, the Court held that the long estrangement was due to the father’s stubbornness. Second, the Court found that the father was wrong to believe that the Claimant was sufficiently independent of means. HHJ Saffman instead found that “the claimant was, and is, far from well off yet there is no evidence that she is significantly profligate”.

The Judgment

The claimant had brought a claim for “reasonable financial provision” under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which allows persons such as spouses or children to make a claim where they are not reasonably provided for after a person has passed away.

The Court considered two questions. First, did the Will make reasonable financial provision for the claimant daughter? Second, what reasonable financial provision ought to be made?

On the first question, the Court held that the Will did not make reasonable provision for the claimant daughter, even though she was an independent adult who worked two jobs and had no relationship with her father. It was found that the daughter’s financial needs were real and reasonable and that “the size of the estate [was] such as to justify provision for her”. Considering the veterinary nurse studies, the Court held that this was not a “fanciful aspiration”.

The Court rejected the defence’s arguments. The claimant was not considered to be an extravagant spender, especially when compared to Mr Fowle who had bought two Rolex watches for over £18,000 with the money he inherited from the deceased. The Court also gave little weight to the letter of wishes, for the reasons previously mentioned.

On the second question, the Court estimated that £30,000 was a reasonable amount for the daughter’s maintenance. In coming to its conclusion, the Court rejected Mr Fowle’s arguments that the daughter should get no more than £6,600 to cover her outstanding debts and also refused the daughter’s full (amended) claim for £59,000.

It is not very clear how the amount of £30,000 was arrived at. That being said, the judgment suggests that the figure takes into consideration the claimant’s current debts, and that it was balanced so as to be reasonable whether or not the claimant pursued her veterinary nurse studies.

Lessons Learned

This was the first case involving adult children since the long-awaited decision of the Supreme Court in Ilott v Mitson [2017] UKSC 17. The two cases have remarkable similarities, a fact which the Honourable Judge in Nahajec was quick to note. It is clear that the Court was very mindful of Ilott, a case which will have to be carefully considered in future claims involving adult children.

The key take-away is that each case remains fact-sensitive, and the way in which a case is presented makes an enormous difference. For instance, the Court may be drawn by an appealing argument by a person wanting to pursue further education to better themselves. It appears that it is very much still open for a court to make an award to an estranged child in the right circumstances.

If you have any questions about being left out of a will please contact Nicholas Choiniere on 0113 336 3349 or via email at nicholas.choiniere@clarionsolicitors.com. If you have any questions about drafting a will please contact our Private Client department.

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