An increasingly common scenario which gives rise to claims under the Inheritance Act involves marriages in later life which do not produce children, but where both spouses have children from previous relationships. Even though the marriage may have been of a long duration, it is very often the case that the ‘new’ spouse is overlooked when making a will and everything is left to the deceased’s children. This is not always a problem, as often the marital home is jointly owned and the surviving spouse acquires it regardless of the will. The same would apply to bank accounts and other assets held in joint names. Such an oversight occurred to an elderly widower who was left homeless after an oversight in will.
Issues may arise when the property and assets are in the sole name of the deceased. An extreme example of this was a case in which the only substantial asset was the marital home, which the wife had inherited on her first husband’s death. She lived in the house with her new husband for the duration of their 30-year marriage, but it remained in her sole name. When she died, her will left everything (including the house) to her two sons. They took a hard line and immediately gave their elderly step-father notice to quit. He had nowhere else to live, no savings and a very modest pension. The widower took advice at an early stage and was told that as a surviving spouse he had a claim under the Inheritance Act for reasonable financial provision. He offered at the outset to accept half of the estate as a lump sum to enable him to acquire a new home, which would have left a worthwhile inheritance for the step-sons. They flatly rejected the offer, memorably stating that hell would freeze over before they gave him a penny.
Matters progressed (at significant expense) to a two-day trial, at which the judge ruled in favour of the widower and awarded him more than he had offered to accept, which had catastrophic costs consequences for the step-sons. Part of the judgment required them to hand over the deeds to the property to the widower’s solicitors. The brothers refused to do so and the matter went back before the judge, who indicated that he would imprison them for contempt of court unless they produced the deeds. The deeds were duly handed over and the house was sold. After what we must assume was an intense period of arctic conditions in the underworld, the brothers’ inheritance from their mother’s estate came to a little over £1,000 each.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If you or someone you know is in a similar situation, timely expert advice on the issues is essential to avoid expensive mistakes. Regardless of which side of the argument you are on, call me on 01962 679777 or send me an email for an assessment of the matter and advice on how best to deal with it.