Inheritance Disputes

Making a dependency claim 

If you were supported by someone who has died and feel that the will fails to provide for you adequately, you can claim for weekly or monthly payments or lump sum under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. The act specifies four categories of claimants:

  1. the surviving spouse

  2. a cohabitee who lived with the deceased for at least two years

  3. children; legitimate, illegitimate or adopted; and any other child, such as a stepchild, supported by the deceased and treated as her or his own

  4. others supported by the deceased such as an elderly relative, or anyone receiving regular maintenance from the deceased.

If the case goes to court, it will be heard in the Chancery Division or the Family Division of the High Court unless the estate is worth less than £30,000, when it is heard in the county court. The court will consider your needs and resources, the financial status of other applicants for the claim, the needs and resources of the beneficiaries of the will, the deceased person’s obligations and responsibilities to you, the size of the estate, and any mental or physical disabilities (such as limited mobility or dementia) you or the beneficiaries may have.

The right to make an application under this law runs out six months after the Grant of Probate. Anyone waiting to make a claim needs to take urgent legal advice.  


Cohabitee’s right

Your partner, with whom you lived for fifteen years, died without leaving a will. He always assured you that you would want nothing when he had gone, but now his estranged wife insists that she has first claim on his estate.  

The estranged wife has an automatic right to the bulk of the estate under the intestacy rules, but you can still make a claim for financial provision. A surviving partner can claim against the estate as long as the couple lived together for at least two years. You could claim ‘reasonable provision’, which is likely to be interpreted by a court as a lump sum plus an income. The court will take into account your age, the length of the relationship and the contribution you made to the welfare of the deceased person’s family.  

A court action could be costly, so seek advice before doing anything. Consult your local Citizens Advice Bureau Law Centre or a solicitor about making a claim before taking action. Write to the probate registrar at your district probate registry giving notice of your claim. You will be told if a grant of letters of administration is made on the estate. Try to negotiate an agreement with the administrators of the estate. Say that if this fails you will go to court. You have six months after lodging notice of your claim to write to the executor or administrator, to say that you are putting them to notice. This means that they cannot distribute the deceased’s estate without a court’s permission.

Illegitimate child

You are an illegitimate child and wish to claim part of your deceased father’s estate. Whether or not your father made a will, you are eligible to make a claim. The Family Law Reform Act 1987 gives legitimate and illegitimate children the same rights to inherit from their parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers, or any other relation who dies intestate. So if your father failed to make a will, you would have exactly the same claim as his other children under the intestacy rules.

If your father made a will, but made no provision for you, you could claim under the Inheritance Act 1975, which states that illegitimate children have a possible claim. There are no age restrictions, so adult offspring can bring a case as well as young children. The court can award weekly or annual payments, normally to the end of full-time education for a child, or a lump sum. An adult who is capable of earning a living would not normally succeed in a claim, although an exception may be made if that person has remained at home to provide full-time care for an elderly or disabled relative.

Foster grandchild

Your grandfather supported you during his lifetime even though you are his son’s foster child rather than a blood relation. After his death you discovered that his will provides only for his children and grandchildren. You want to dispute. You might make a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975. This includes a category for people who were being wholly or partly maintained by the deceased directly before death. But you would have to show that you have been receiving a substantial contribution to your living costs from your grandfather in the years immediately before his death.

If your grandfather had made a financial contribution to your upbringing as a child, but you are now old enough for this to have ceased and are earning a living, your claim would not succeed. In considering your case the court would look at the basis upon which your grandfather assumed responsibility for your maintenance. It would consider how long he had been paying towards your upkeep. You should seek out instant advice from a solicitor.