Wife wins appeal over share of estranged husband’s estate
Published: 22 May 2017
Category: Legal News
The problems that can arise if a person fails to keep their will up to date was highlighted in a recent case involving a deceased man’s estranged wife and his new partner.
The man had separated from his wife in 1994 but they did not
divorce. Shortly after the separation, he began living with his new partner,
but never updated his will so his wife remained his sole beneficiary.
In 2009, he and the partner bought a house in Dorchester
which they owned equally. The man had a mortgage over his share.
When he died in 2014, his partner applied under the
Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act for reasonable financial
provision. The wife paid off the mortgage on the Dorchester home and offered
the partner a life interest in the man’s share of that property to settle her
The judge determined that the man's share of the Dorchester
home should be given to the partner to make reasonable financial provision for
her. He noted that she owned a house in Bristol equally with her sister, but
left it out of account on the basis that she should not be forced to evict her
sister to maintain herself.
He rejected the wife's unchallenged evidence of her own
financial needs and considered that it was undermined by her life interest
The wife appealed saying there was insufficient evidence
that her husband had substantially contributed to the partner's reasonable needs
and that the relief granted to the partner was excessive.
The High Court found in favour of the wife. It held there
was no good reason to leave out the partner's share in the Bristol property. It
was a material asset in which she had an immediate and significant interest.
Given that the wife's evidence as to her financial needs had
not been challenged, the judge's rejection of it was impossible to justify.
Taking everything into account, including the partner's
equity in the Bristol property and the fact that the wife had paid off the man's
mortgage on the Dorchester home, the appropriate order was to give the partner
a life interest in the man's share of the Dorchester home, with it reverting to
the wife’s estate following the partner’s death.
It could be said that the court had settled the dispute
eventually but most of the stress and expense in cases like this could be
avoided if a person makes a will and then keeps it up to date as circumstances
change over the years.
Please contact Mark Burn or Rosalind Burton in our Private Client
Team if you would like more information about the issues raised in this
article or any aspect of wills and probate.