If someone on whom you depend financially dies without reasonably providing for you in their will, you should contact a solicitor straight away. In a High Court case on point, a delay in seeking legal advice very nearly stymied a disinherited widow’s claim against her husband’s estate.
The widow was 26 years younger than her husband and his family disapproved of their union from the outset. The marriage was a troubled one and, either side of a period of at least partial reconciliation, he twice petitioned to divorce her. They finally separated when she moved out of his home about six months prior to his death, aged 67, from an alcohol-related illness.
The will was signed during a downturn in their relationship and was accompanied by a letter of wishes in which he confirmed his intention to make no provision for his widow and to bequeath the entirety of his estate – which was worth £300-350,000 – to his adult children from a previous marriage.
The widow’s response was to issue an application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, seeking reasonable provision from his estate. She said that she was on a low income and financially dependent on him. She contended that she had cared for him and his elderly mother and paid some of his debts, and that he regularly promised her that she would inherit his house.
The children disputed her claim and argued, amongst other things, that the house was not matrimonial property, having been in their family for over 50 years. At a preliminary hearing, they also pointed out that the Act requires that applications must be lodged no more than six months after a grant of probate. The widow had missed that deadline by about five months.
Ruling on the timing issue, the Court noted that the widow’s claim to outright ownership of the house appeared over-ambitious. The marriage had, however, subsisted for seven years and, had it ended in divorce, she would probably have been entitled to modest financial relief. She had a substantial case that it was unreasonable of her husband to entirely disinherit her. The Court extended the six-month time limit, thereby enabling her to proceed with her claim to a full trial.