The High Court has granted permission to bring a claim under the Inheritance Act – despite it being issued some 25 years and nine months after the deadline for doing so.
The Act limits parties to six months for bringing claims under the Act, but Chief Master Marsh said the claimant in Bhusate v Patel & Ors had demonstrated ‘compelling reasons’ why it was right and proper that the court should exercise its discretion in her favour.
While the delay in making the claim was unprecedented, the judgment is also noteworthy for the Master appearing to dispute the reasoning of a High Court judge who considered another out-of-time application under section 4 of the Act last month.
In Bhusate, the court ruled the claimant, whose husband died intestate in 1990, was ‘effectively powerless’ to do anything sooner in the absence of agreement or engagement by her stepchildren.
Indeed, her husband’s children by his first wife had obstructed the sale of her residential property then did ‘did nothing’ to break the impasse for a further 23 years.
Chief Master Marsh added: ‘They have stood by until a claim was made and then taken a limitation point so as to deprive the claimant of her entitlement from the estate.’
He noted that if the application was not granted, the claimant would be left with no remedy at all and no benefit from her husband’s estate, and would effectively be left homeless.
The court heard the India-born claimant did not speak, read or write English when her husband had died and had no real understanding of what her role as administrator of the estate required or her duties. On her husband’s death, she was entitled to a statutory legacy and one half share of residuary estate in trust for her. The administrators, the claimant and her step-daughter held the property on trust for the estate. With the exception of one individual, the Master said, she was subject to ‘implacable’ hostility from her step-children, but had tried in vain to get agreement to a sale price.
Chief Master Marsh acknowledged the long period of delay for making a claim to the estate, but it was not correct to say this made it inevitable that the application should be dismissed.
He added: ‘The breach of duty by her in failing to administer the estate, was sufficient basis for her to be removed as an administrator but her level of culpability was negligible.’
The court came to a different conclusion to another application last month under section 4 of the Act, where Mr Justice Mostyn denied permission to bring a claim in Cowan v Foreman. The judge on that occasion said ‘robust’ application of the power to extend deadline was consistent with the overriding objective and Civil Procedure Rules requiring compliance and for the court to consider the time and resources allocated to late applications.
In Bhusate, Chief Master Marsh said he had read the Cowan judgment prior to handing down his own ruling, and he did not consider it was right to regard the overriding objective when considering the exercise of discretion under section 4.
‘To do so, I suggest, involves conflating issues that, if they are related, are at best distant cousins,’ he added.