Elaine Palser acts for successful Inheritance Act claimants in the High Court
Elaine Palser, instructed by Tees Solicitors, acted for the successful claimants in R Deceased  EWHC 936 (Ch). The claim was brought by two minor children for reasonable financial provision from their father’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
The children were 14 and 15 when their father died, and they had been estranged from him for several years before his death. Their father had also failed to pay any maintenance for them during the estrangement, with the children instead relying entirely on their mother and stepfather.
In his will, the father left his entire estate to his new partner and his parents, and nothing to his children. The partner and parents denied that there was any obligation on the deceased to make any financial provision in his will for his children, a stance which the court considered to be “regrettable”.
The court held that “it will not generally be open to beneficiaries … to rely on the fact that the deceased failed to provide child support (even if not called upon to do so), or to rely on the fact that the child was treated by a step-father as a child of his family and assumed responsibility for his maintenance.” Furthermore, “only in exceptional circumstances” could the court be expected to accept that the obligation to maintain had been completely severed, and “the concept of a clean-break is not generally applicable in respect of child maintenance.” It is clear from this judgment that factors such as estrangement, a failure to provide maintenance, and an assumption of responsibility by another may affect the value of a claim by minor children but will rarely extinguish the claim.
The children were awarded sums to cover a significant contribution towards their living costs, school fees and boarding fees, a car and driving lessons, and university accommodation, as well as housing costs for one year after university, and counselling fees for one year.
The court also held that it was appropriate to “backdate” the awards, so that the awards covered the period from approximately when the claim was issued, even though some of these costs had now been paid for by the mother and stepfather, instead of the start date being the date of the trial.
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Elaine has considerable experience of contentious probate and trusts claims, and is a full member of STEP, ACTAPS and ConTrA. To instruct Elaine or to find out more please contact Elaine’s Practice Management Team: Matt Sale (+44 (0)20 7427 4910) or Peter Foad (+44 (0)20 7427 0807)
Barristers: Elaine Palser
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