As an increasing number of people are getting married more than once and blended families are becoming more common, there’s a growing awareness and complexity to inheritance issues.
If you’re concerned that you haven’t received the inheritance you believe you’re due, or if you have questions about probate in general, we’re here to help.
About The Inheritance Act 1975
In England and Wales, following their death, people are entitled to dispose of their assets and estates however they choose. If a testator (the person leaving the legacy) chooses to exclude a child from their will and leave their entire inheritance to a third party, they are legally entitled to do so. This is different to in some other countries, where there are clear cut rules about heirship and how estates should be divided between remaining family members.
In England and Wales, although people are entitled to dispose of their assets and estates however they choose, The Inheritance Act offers some recourse for those who feel they have been unfairly left out.
Testators sometimes overlook the needs of certain individuals who would usually benefit from an inheritance. This is particularly true if the will was written before that person came into the deceased individual’s life, or if the deceased didn’t prepare a will at all.
In the case of there being no will, the Rules of Intestacy would apply. These are very strict rules that don’t take into account the complex nature of modern families and relationships. If someone’s partner dies and they weren’t married – even if they were living together – there’s no guarantee that the remaining partner will be entitled to anything from their estate.
This can lead to severe consequences for those left behind, many of whom lose the homes they have lived in for many years and find themselves in hardship without the financial support they once relied on. In such cases, it’s worth considering making a claim under the Inheritance Act.
Who Can Make a Claim Under the Inheritance Act?
Only certain people are entitled to make a claim. These include the deceased’s spouse or civil partner, former spouse or civil partner, cohabitee, minor or adult child of the deceased, someone who the deceased treated as a child, and an individual who was previously receiving financial maintenance from the deceased.
Cohabitees and Unmarried Partners
The rules state that in order to benefit, a cohabitee must be able to prove that they lived with the deceased for at least two years prior to their death. This can be difficult to provide evidence for, particularly if their name isn’t on the mortgage or rental agreement, or if there is a second home involved.
To make a claim, the remaining partner must be able to provide bank statements, utility bills and other documents to show the couple were in a relationship and living together.
Any changes to living arrangements in the two years prior to death will have to be thoroughly assessed by the court, who will want to know if the couple stopped living together because of a breakup or if it was due to other circumstances, such as working away or supporting sick family members.
Second Families and Stepchildren
It’s now common for people to remarry, which has led to a rise in the number of stepchildren making claims for inheritance. Estates will often be left to the deceased’s surviving partner, in which case there’s no guarantee that the children of either party will benefit.
Sometimes the remaining spouse leaves everything to their own children when they die, which means the children of the first deceased spouse are left with nothing. In such cases the courts will investigate the relationships between all parties to ascertain the eligibility of claims.
What Courts Look For
The court will take into account the claimant’s standard and style of living, and how this has been affected by the deceased’s death. They may also look at what the claimant would have expected to receive if the relationship had ended due to divorce rather than death.
They will also consider whether dependants will be left financially destitute or suffer severe hardship as a result of being left without an inheritance.
Here are some examples of the sort of information courts look for:
- Financial resources and needs of the applicant, both now and in the future
- Any financial obligations the deceased had towards the applicant
- Size and nature of the deceased’s estate
- Any physical or mental disabilities of the applicant or beneficiary
- Any other information deemed relevant by the court, such as conduct of the deceased, the applicant or anyone else who would benefit from an award
The Importance of Legal Advice
The information written above is only a very brief guide. Inheritance law is notoriously complex and therefore often difficult to navigate on your own, so if you think you might have a claim it’s essential to seek legal advice. The rules state that a claimant must make a claim within six months of a probate grant, or letters of administration. The courts have, occasion, been able to extend this timescale under exceptional circumstances, but it’s best not to take the risk. There’s no guarantee that late grants will be considered, so take advice as early as you can.
You will need to be prepared to talk openly and honestly about your finances in order for the courts to obtain a clear picture of your current circumstances. This may feel like an intrusion, or you are on trial, but without this information the courts will be unable to reach a clear decision about what may be owed to you.
How Awards are Made
If the court decides an award should be made, it can happen in a number of ways. It may be via an order to sell or transfer a property to the applicant’s name, or a legal document stating they have a lifetime right to occupy the property. The applicant may also be given a lump sum payment, or a number of payments that are made at regular intervals.
Find out More
If you would like to know more about the Inheritance Act, including support with making a claim, book a free 20 minute contentious probate appointment for advice.