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Court of Appeal confirms life interest for spouse of deceased is not reasonable financial provision

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In a very interesting benchmark decision, the Court of Appeal last month confirmed that if a spouse is only left a life interest in their husband or wife’s property on their death, this is not reasonable financial provision, and they should be entitled to more.

Mrs Mussarat Iqbal, a 61-year-old widow, from Cardiff, had been on poor terms with her husband during his final illness. As a result, in his Will, he did not leave his estate to her as most spouses do, instead leaving her just £8,000 and a lifetime right to occupy the house.  This meant that as soon as Mrs Iqbal no longer wished to live in the house, or wanted to move, she would have to buy something herself and the property would then pass to his son.

Mr Iqbal appointed his son (by a previous marriage) Zulfkar Ahmed as his executor, and left him the entire estate subject to the life interest and £8,000 legacy.  The property was valued in the region of £115,000, and the remainder of the estate was worth in the region of £28,000.

Mrs Iqbal brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which allows family members, or people who were financially dependant upon the deceased, to bring a claim for reasonable financial provision, when a Will, or the intestacy rules, have failed to do so.

In August last year the High Court awarded her a 50% share in the property, together with the remainder of the estate, in addition to her life interest in the property.  She would therefore be able to continue living in the property, and when it is finally sold, she would be entitled to 50% of the proceeds of sale.

The judge's main reason for this award was that Mrs Iqbal was almost entirely dependent on the deceased, to whom she had been married for 22 years.  She had come to England from Pakistan, speaks very little English, and has almost no earning capacity.

The stepson appealed the High Court’s decision to the Court of Appeal, and they handed down their judgment last month.  The Court of Appeal felt that, given the relatively small value of the estate, there were limited assets available to allow for provision for Mrs Iqbal.  They also commented where spouses bring a claim under the act, the starting point with an award should be looking at what Mrs Iqbal would have received had Mr Iqbal still been alive, and they then divorced.

The Court of Appeal therefore dismissed the stepson’s appeal and upheld the award given to Mrs Iqbal by the High Court.

This is a very interesting benchmark set by the Court of Appeal.  As a solicitor specialising in inheritance disputes, I often act for spouses in claims under the 1975 Act, and often the guidance from the Courts is unclear as to what would be an appropriate award.  As each case does depend on its own facts, it can be very difficult to predict what the Court will award.  This case has set a clear benchmark in situations where there is a clear dependency need.

If you are in any doubt as to whether you may be able to bring a claim, then contact our specialist litigation team who deal with inheritance disputes on 01942 777777.  If you are of limited financial means, you may even be entitled to Legal Aid, and we can advise you of this quickly over the phone.

By inheritance disputes solicitor, Heather Korwin-Szymanowska