Wed, 15 Mar 2017
The Supreme Court today handed down a unanimous judgment in this case, brought by an estranged adult child against her deceased mother’s estate, for reasonable financial provision to be made for her (under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The estrangement had continued, virtually uninterrupted, for over 25 years, when the Claimant left home to marry a man of whom the deceased did not approve. The Claimant was in necessitous circumstances, lived in rented accommodation (paid for by the state) and in receipt of benefits.
The deceased had left her estate to various animal charities, with which she had previously had little or no connection. She expressly stated that she did not wish her daughter to benefit in any way from her estate.
The litigation has had a chequered history. In short, the original award was of £50,000. It was increased by the Court of Appeal to £143,000, to enable the Claimant to purchase the property in which she and her family lived, and an optional £20,000.
The main speech in the Supreme Court was delivered by Lord Hughes, with whom all of the other Justices agreed. The result was that the original award of £50,000 was reinstated.
Lord Hughes said that the statutory power (in a claim by an adult child) was to provide for maintenance and not to confer capital on the Claimant. Further that the reasonableness of the deceased’s decisions and intentions were factors that were to be considered under section 3(1)(g) 1975 Act (“any other matter”). It was emphasised that the Act does not say, however, that a court may make an award when the deceased has acted unreasonably. The question is rather whether the provision made was unreasonable.
The decision of the Court of Appeal was overturned on every point. It had given very little, if any, weight to the 25 years of estrangement, although the Supreme Court cautioned against making awards merely because of good behaviour by the claimant or bad behaviour by the deceased.
The Court of Appeal had also given little weight to the deceased’s clear wishes, which, the Supreme Court held, remained to be considered even where there was a demonstrated case of need. They may, of course, be overridden, but that could be determined only after full consideration of all of the factors the court is required to take into account.
The early decision of Oliver J in Re Coventry  Ch 461 was approved and it was confirmed that being in necessitous circumstances alone was insufficient to justify an award. Further it was not the purpose of the Act to provide an award for meritorious conduct.
Lady Hale gave a short concurring speech in which she said that a respectable case might be made out for three different outcomes: no award, £50,000 or the award made by the Court of Appeal. She ended by noting the unsatisfactory state of the present law, giving as it does no guidance as to the factors to be taken into account in deciding whether an adult child is deserving or undeserving of maintenance.
Download the full judgment from the Supreme Court website here