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‘Adequately providing’ for partners after death

The recent Court of Appeal decision in Lewis v Warner [2016] EWHC 1787 (Ch) is interesting within the context of claims brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975  on behalf of cohabitees.

Audrey Blackwell  (’the Deceased’) had been living with her partner Thomas Warner for 20 years at the time of her death. Her Will did not provide at all for Mr Warner and the home that they shared, together with the remainder of the Deceased’s estate, was left to her daughter entirely.

Although Mr Warner was ‘well off’ and wealthier than the Deceased, he argued that the Will failed to make reasonable financial provision for him, which under the Act is defined as ‘such financial provision as would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the applicant to receive for his maintenance’.

It would have been argued on behalf of the defendant that Mr Warner did not have a need for ‘maintenance’ as he was a man of means and able to support himself financially independently of the estate and therefor he did not have an unmet ‘need’.

The Court of Appeal upheld the findings of the judge at first instance that a person could be in need of financial provision for ‘maintenance’ even where they had ample financial resources of their own. It was held that ‘maintenance’ could include other forms of assistance.

Mr Warner was elderly, in ill health and had lived in that home for 20 years.  He was granted an option to purchase the home from the estate which enabled him to remain in that property. It could be questioned whether his need should or could have been met by the provision of a simple right to occupy the home during his lifetime.

The reported decision also suggests that Mr Blackwell made financial contributions to the property during the relationship. This calls into question whether it should also have been argued that he had a separate claim under other statutory provisions for an outright share of the property, although the merits of such a claim would depend on the extent and nature of the contributions that he made.

This case serves to highlight the issues that can arise if there is no Will left on death or if a family member wishes to contest your Will.