The High Court has ruled in favour of a woman who received nothing from her late partner’s £1.5 million estate, in a judgment that will again spark debate about the law on inheritance.
In a ruling handed down on 29 March, the High Court ruled in favour of 79-year-old Joan Thompson, who it said should be entitled to a distribution of Wynford Hodge’s estate.
In Thompson v Raggett, Thompson pursued a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 against Hodge. He had left his whole estate, valued at £1,535,060, to tenants and friends. The couple had been together for 42 years.
His Honour Judge Jarman QC said Thompson should be given reasonable provision for her maintenance. She was granted one of Hodge’s properties worth £225,000 – the court heard the property had been purchased with a view to the couple retiring to it. Thompson was also granted £160,000 for her future maintenance and care, and £28,845 to renovate the property.
Thompson was represented by Top-100 law firm Hugh James.
Vlad Macdonald-Munteanu, a solicitor in the firm’s contested wills, trusts and estates team, said the judgment paves the way for cohabitees, who currently have no statutory rights to their partner’s estate, to secure financial provision ’that reflects their contribution to the relationship’.
Macdonald-Munteanu added: ‘One of the main issues for courts to consider is the provision of accommodation by way of a life interest, rather than a capital transfer, as well as reinforcing the principle of testamentary freedom. This case is particularly noteworthy as the judge recognised that it was not an absolute rule and decided to depart from it by providing an outright transfer of the cottage to Thompson rather than just a life interest.’
He added that the key drivers for the outcome were the length of their relationship; Thompson’s financial dependency on Hodge; and to prevent her having to ask the intended beneficiaries for permission to renovate the property or raise capital against it.
Courts have been grappling with the issue of reasonable provision since the Supreme Court’s decision in Ilott v The Blue Cross and others.
In that judgment the Supreme Court overturned an appeal court ruling in favour of Heather Ilott. She had been excluded from her mother’s £500,000 estate in favour of three charities.
Ilott challenged the will under the 1975 Act and was awarded £50,000 at the High Court.
Both parties appealed. On appeal, the Court of Appeal said Ilott was not given a reasonable provision in the will. She was instead awarded £143,000 - to buy the rented home she was living in - plus an extra £20,000 for additional income.
But the Supreme Court struck out that ruling and restored the original judgment.