BULLOCK v. DENTON [2020]

Tue, 28 Apr 2020

County Court at Leeds

Mrs Bullock had lived and cohabited with Mr Simon Denton for around 3 years 4 months at the date of his death in May 2017, aged 56.  He left a will dated 1st April 2015, leaving all of his estate, valued at £2,081,826, to his brother, the First Defendant (the Second Defendant being a friend of the deceased and co-executor).  When instructions had been given for the will, the deceased had apparently said that he was not in a relationship and no provision was made for Mrs Bullock.

The Defendants denied the relationship, despite the disclosure of a number of cards in which the deceased had declared his love for Mrs Bullock.  The Defendants continued to deny the cards were written by the deceased, despite handwriting expert evidence to the contrary.  They maintained that Mrs Bullock was merely a housekeeper.

Mrs Bullock was in a very weak financial position.  She worked as a carer, had over £30,000 of debt and nowhere to live.  She was aged 61 at the date of trial.  She brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which was strongly resisted.  The trial took 4 days, such was the extent of the factual disputes.

Mrs Bullock was ultimately successful, securing a life interest in a property of £140,000, plus a lump sum of £70,000.

The judgment is notable in two particular respects.  The first is that the sum of £70,000 included £25,000 towards the success fee that Mrs Bullock would otherwise have had to bear as both her solicitors and Counsel acted under a CFA.  The Judge, HHJ Gosnell, acceded to the submission that he was entitled to, and indeed should, take her liability to pay the success fees into account when considering her future liabilities under section 3 of the Act.

The remainder of the lump sum was for her removal costs, a new car and replacement of white goods.  There is nothing remarkable about that part of the order.

The other notable aspect of the judgment is that Mrs Bullock had moved out of the deceased’s home in July 2015, returning in February 2016. The reason for leaving, she said, was largely due to the bullying attitude of the Second Defendant.  She said that the deceased was a frequent visitor to her in her rented accommodation, often staying overnight, and that he pestered her to return to his home.  In order to claim as a cohabitant, Mrs Bullock had to prove that she had lived with the deceased as husband and wife for 2 years before his death.  Authorities (for example, Gully v. Dix [2014] 1 WLR 1399) confirm that a temporary absence can be ignored.  After reviewing all of the evidence the judge concluded that the relationship had continued throughout – from late 2013 until May 2017 – and so she was entitled to claim under both section 1(1)(ba), as a cohabitant, and s1(1)(e) as a dependant. 

Mrs Bullock was represented by Nicola Preston.

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