In our recent article Will your Will protect you we considered the claims that can be made against an estate after death, in particular proprietary estoppel and a claim for maintenance under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 (“1975 Act”).

Recently we were asked to advise a client faced with a decision about making claims like these against the estate of his late partner.

Our client had been in a 10-year relationship with his partner when she suddenly died. Both had previously been married; both had children from previous relationships. The couple met online and moved in together shortly afterwards. Initially, they lived in the partner’s property, but then purchased a farmhouse and smallholding, with the hope of escaping their 9-5 corporate jobs in favour of running holiday cottages and a livery yard for horses.

The farm required significant investment to bring it up to the standard desired for it to be home and operate as a successful business. Our client’s partner funded the majority of these improvement works, with our client project-managing. The farm had been purchased in the partner’s sole name, but both were contributing in different ways to their dream.

Unfortunately, the partner’s health quickly deteriorated, and she died, but before she had been able to change her Will to benefit our client. Our client was bereft. Not only had he lost his partner, but he was going to lose his home, his livelihood, and the life-long dream he had worked so hard to achieve. The partner had intended to change her Will, to ensure our client received the farm and would be able to continue running the business. Instead, the entire estate passed to the partner’s children.

With the benefit of our advice, our client made a proprietary estoppel and 1975 Act claim against his partner’s estate. Although the claim became very drawn-out and intense for all those involved, we eventually secured an award of nearly one third of the partner’s net estate. Whilst the estate is worth several millions, meaning our client is amply supported for his future, it has taken a significant toll on his mental health. Further, the relationship he had with his partners’ children has all but disappeared.

This case highlights not only the emotional and financial cost that proprietary estoppel and 1975 Act claims have on those left behind but also illustrates the importance of updating your Will when your circumstances change and ensuring you receive professional advice on the impact of any those updates. It also highlights the particular care which unmarried cohabitants need to take in connection with their affairs: in the absence of a marriage (or civil partnership) succession law can sometimes apply harshly to those who live together, even in the long term.

How we can help

The Private Wealth Team at Druces is expert at listening to what clients want to achieve and translating that into the appropriate structure and plan. By taking action whilst you still can, it avoids disputes post-death and ensures all those you wish to benefit are catered for.

For further information, please contact Paul Levy or Zoe Norton or your usual adviser at Druces.

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