When making your will, it is vital to remember those who have a right to look to you for financial support. As a High Court case showed, a failure to meet your duties to your dependants is highly likely to trigger costly dispute – and ultimately judicial intervention – after you are gone.
The case concerned a businessman who died from an incurable lung condition at the age of just 41, leaving an estate valued at over £800,000 for probate. By a will made shortly before his death, he appointed his partner as sole executor of his estate and divided his assets between her and his parents (the beneficiaries).
He left nothing at all to his two sons by a marriage which had ended in acrimonious divorce about seven years prior to his death. His ex-wife’s response was to launch proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, seeking reasonable provision for his sons from his estate.
The beneficiaries responded that, some years before the man died, responsibility for providing for the boys had been assumed entirely by his ex-wife and her new husband. All direct contact between the man and his sons had ceased more than four years before he made his final will and it was asserted that there was no basis on which he could be expected to provide for them financially in his will.
Ruling on the matter, the Court found that only in the most exceptional cases could it be argued that a father’s duty to provide for his children had been entirely severed. The concept of a clean break was not generally applicable in respect of child maintenance. Although the boys’ stepfather treated them as children of his family and had taken on the burden of providing for them, their father’s responsibility to maintain them had not been extinguished.
The Court directed that the younger boy, who was still at school, should receive £117,962 from his father’s estate. The older boy, who had recently turned 18, received £68,022.