Unmarried cohabitee receives award of £160,000 from her partner’s estate following successful Inheritance Act claim

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Our client had been the long term partner of Mr S since the 1970s with whom she had borne six children. Mr S had previously had 6 children with his ex-wife, who he divorced in 1977.

Mr S died in October 2009 leaving a Will dated 21 March 1963- i.e. pre-dating his divorce. The divorce invalidated the gifts in the Will to his ex-wife so the estate passed in equal shares to the 11 children who survived him at the date of his death. Our client therefore received nothing from the estate, despite being entirely financially dependant upon him throughout their relationship and at the time of his death.

She therefore pursued a claim under section 1(b a) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975. Her own children did not oppose the claim, but the six children from the deceased’s marriage did defend. The claim was complicated by the fact that a substantial gift had been made out of Mr S’s estate to his ex-wife during his lifetime (likely to increase the net estate from some £460,000 to around £800,000) and one of her children (RS) had been made bankrupt at the relevant time. As such it was necessary to pursue a claim under section 10 of the 1975 Act to bring the assets back into the estate and to join the ex-wife to the court proceedings. The trustee in bankruptcy of RS also needed to be joined.

The client initially instructed another firm to commence the court proceedings. They did so utilising a witness statement containing a number of inaccuracies. They also failed to plead the correct section of the 1975 Act and failed to join RS’s trustee in bankruptcy to the proceedings.

The client decided to consult Slee Blackwell Solicitors following the withdrawal of public funding. Our specialist inheritance dispute lawyers quickly got to work and recognising the strengths of the claim (despite the problems) we agreed to pursue the inheritance claim under a no win, no fee agreement (CFA).

We were instructed shortly prior to the deadline for serving proceedings (within four months of issuing the claim) and therefore immediately amended the pleadings prior to service to include the trustee in bankruptcy and to file an amended witness statement clarifying the inaccuracies in the previous statement and adducing further key evidence in support of the inheritance claim. We managed to agree a stay of proceedings with the thirteen defendants (a feat in itself) whereby they would not be required to serve their lengthy witness statements of Evidence in Reply in exchange for the parties agreeing to mediate the claim.

Mediation took place in January 2012, resulting in an excellent settlement for our client whereby she received £160,000 plus payment of the legal costs incurred by us. To assist the client we agreed to reduce our success fee under the CFA so that she would be able to keep her award without any deductions. The only costs she had to meet were the costs arising in relation to her earlier instruction of the previous firm- the Defendants not being willing to pay costs caused by the inaccurate pleadings they filed with the Court.

This case illustrates the importance of instructing solicitors who are specialist in contentious probate claims and inheritance disputes to ensure that you maximise the value of your claim and minimise the costs of pursuing it. It is also a good example of the importance of getting all parties to engage in mediation early to ensure that costs are minimised so far as possible.

If you are involved in an inheritance dispute and are looking for a specialist inheritance lawyer then give us a call on 0808 139 1606 or email inheritance solicitor Lee Dawkins at [email protected]