Our contested wills lawyers recently took a case to trial that hit the news headlines.
We were the claimant’s lawyers in the famous case of Ames v Jones. The case made the newspapers because of the judge’s comments on the c decision not to work.
It involved a daughter’s claim for reasonable financial provision from her late father’s estate under the 1975 Inheritance Act. The claim was dismissed by the judge on the grounds that her lack of employment was a “lifestyle choice”.
Her father had left his entire estate to his second wife. His daughter, the claimant, was an unemployed 41 year old woman with two children and struggling to make ends meet. She made a claim against her dad’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 on the basis that his will failed to make reasonable financial provision for her.
The Inheritance Act enables an adult child of someone who dies to bring a claim for reasonable financial provision from their estate if the will (or the intestacy rules if there is no will) fails to provide. The claimant must be able to demonstrate that reasonable financial provision has not been made for their maintenance.
One of the factors the court will consider is the financial needs and resources of the claimant. In this case, the claimant was in a poor financial position, but the court considered that she was capable of working to meet her own needs. The stepmother by contrast was a pensioner with limited income and whose working life was behind her.
The judge ruled that the claimant’s father had been justified in making no provision whatsoever for his daughter and leaving his whole estate (worth nearly £1m) to his widow.
The newspapers picked up on the judge’s comment that the Claimant’s lack of employment was a “lifestyle choice” which was refuted by the claimant.
The decision was naturally a disappointing for the claimant, particularly as she had a good relationship with her father and every expectation that she would be left something from his substantial estate. It does however serve as a timely reminder that contested will claims usually involve an element of risk and outcomes are invariably uncertain.
This particular claim did not go in the claimant’s favour, but many do (especially where the estate is large enough for more than one person to be provided for) and it reinforces the advantages of mediation to resolve contested will disputes.