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Reasonable financial provision: the Lewis v Warner case

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The Court of Appeal delivered its first judgment in a case brought by a cohabitee under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

In the case of Lynn Lewis v Thomas Warner, The Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 enables disappointed beneficiaries to make a claim for reasonable financial provision out of an estate when they do not think they were adequately provided for.

The Court upheld a decision allowing an unmarried partner to buy the home which he had shared with the deceased for almost 20 years.

The judgment is a significant decision when considering the issue of what could constitute reasonable financial provision.

Living with a partner but they leave the house to somebody else: what happens when they die?

Mr Warner, who was 91 years old when the trial started, had been living with the deceased, Mrs Blackwell, as if they were husband and wife for nearly 20 years in property owned solely by Mrs Blackwell.

Following Mrs Blackwell’s death, her entire estate (including the property) went to her daughter Mrs Lewis, leaving nothing to pass to Mr Warner.

Mrs Lewis wanted to be able to sell the property and for Mr Warner to consequently move out. At this time, Mr Warner was in his 80s and besides being happy in the property which was situated in the village where he had lived all of his life, he was in poor health and heavily relied upon assistance from his neighbours.

Financially, Mr Warner was significantly wealthier than the deceased and he never expected to receive anything from her estate.  As he was a number of years older than Mrs Blackwell, he had fully expected to die before her and so had made his own Will leaving her a significant sum of money.

The decision: how the Court of Appeal supported the surviving partner in making reasonable financial provision

Mr Warner successfully made a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 to allow him to be able to buy Mrs Blackwell’s property (as he was able to afford to do so) to be able to continue residing there.

The Court of Appeal had two key questions to deal with:

  1. If the Judge at first instance was correct to conclude that the deceased had failed to make reasonable financial provision for Mr Warner?
  2. Was Mr Warner entitled to make the order that he did under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975?

With the first question, the Court of Appeal had to consider ‘maintenance’. They determined that it was a broad term and as such it could, therefore, include the provision of a property for someone to live in.  The Court took into account all of the factors and “exceptional circumstances” in this case and concluded that the deceased had not made reasonable financial provision for Mr Warner. The deceased had been providing Mr Warner with a home before she died and as such he was being maintained by her.  Consequently, he required such maintenance to continue as opposed to being forced to move out of the property.

In relation to the second question, the Court agreed that an order requiring the estate to transfer the property to Mr Warner at full value was a perfectly appropriate one to make.  The situation, in this case, was unusual, but the fact remained that Mr Warner’s needs were for the specific property itself.

What is significant about this reasonable financial provision case?

As with the Illot case, we will have to wait and see whether the Court goes on to make further similar orders and whether the definition of reasonable financial provision will widen further.

This particular case is an unusual one and there were “exceptional circumstances” to be considered.  It does, however, serve to highlight the fact that the Court has a wide discretion as to the range of orders it may make under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Furthermore, it shows that a person’s maintenance requirements do not always have to be financial, it can well extend beyond this and the court will give due consideration to each case.

How can we help you to deal with issues about a partner dying and not making reasonable financial provision for you?

If your partner dies and they do not include you within their Will, you may be entitled to pursue reasonable financial provision to enable you to stay in the home you shared or keep the things that mattered to you. For more information or support, please contact our Contentious Probate team on 01332 340 211.

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