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The claim was brought about by Thomas Sismey, the son of the deceased, who was looking to enforce a promise made to him by his father in a divorce settlement. It had been agreed that the deceased would leave his property by will to his son, which had been countersigned by the deceased’s then partner as acknowledgement of the agreement.

After being diagnosed with cancer two years after his divorce, the deceased married his partner to enable her to claim the widow’s benefit from his pension. The marriage revoked the will that had been made earlier, breaking his previous promise to his son. Upon his death, his wife became the sole beneficiary of his estate and led to Thomas Sismey bringing a claim against the estate for the property.

Despite the wife having signed the divorce settlement in approval of her husband’s decision at the time to leave his property to his son, she proceeded to dispute the arrangement under section 11 of the Inheritance Act 1975, stating that an order should be made to enable the property in dispute to be used to make reasonable financial provision for her.

During the trial, the judge found that there was evidence of collusion by way of emails passing between the deceased and his former wife.

Following further investigation into the divorce order, the judge ruled in favour of the deceased’s son. Had the widow been successful in her claim, there would be no provision for the son or the ex-wife to renegotiate.

This landmark trial is the first finding of ‘collusion’ made with regards to a divorce settlement and highlights additional areas of uncertainty surrounding divorces involving leaving property in a will.

Key takeaways

When negotiating divorce settlements, it is vital that all aspects of section 11 of the Inheritance Act 1975 are considered in detail to minimise the risk of future financial provision disputes arising.

It is important to remember that a person meeting any of the following criteria may be able to make a claim on your estate under the Act:

1. A surviving spouse

2. A former spouse who has not remarried

3. A person who had cohabited with the deceased for at least two years immediately prior to their death

4. A child of the deceased

5. A child of the family

6. Any other person treated as a dependent provided that:

  • the deceased died domiciled in England or Wales;
  • the application for the order was made within six months of the grant of representation.
  • the applicant does not fall into one of the categories detailed in (1) – (5); and
  • the deceased did not make reasonable financial provision for the applicant. Reasonable financial provision is defined as being ‘such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the applicant to receive for his maintenance’. For spouses and civil partners, financial provision is not limited to what is required for maintenance.


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