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18th October 2016

Decision not to work proved fatal to Inheritance Act claim

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A recent decision of the Central London County Court in Ames v Jones is attracting some media attention and we comment on the decision here.

Danielle Ames, aged 41, brought a claim against her father’s estate for reasonable financial provision. Danielle was the only child from her father’s first marriage. Her father’s Will left the entire estate to his second wife, Elaine. They had lived together for 30 years and had married in 2001. Elaine was aged 63 and in poor health at the time of the hearing. The estate was mainly comprised of the matrimonial home and a number of small businesses.

As a child of the deceased, Danielle was automatically eligible to bring the claim. Danielle received financial support from her long-term partner, whom she lived with and had two teenage children. The Judge found that Danielle was able to work and that it was her “lifestyle choice” not to work. Danielle had gained experience in her father’s picture framing business and had not attempted to obtain work in other local businesses in this field. Whilst Danielle’s father had given her a business in the mid-1990’s and had helped her to set up a new business in 2005, the Judge found that her father had not funded her lifestyle in the way that Danielle asserted. Danielle claimed that she and her partner were unable to make ends meet and were running at a monthly deficit of £2,000. However, the Judge, who was very critical of Danielle’s unreliable evidence, was not satisfied on the evidence that this was indeed the case. Danielle had failed to discharge the burden of proving her current and future needs and resources. Furthermore, Elaine was no longer of working age, was in poor health and the Judge found that any significant reduction in her income would result in her not having sufficient provision for her maintenance.

Danielle’s claim was therefore unsuccessful and it was considered that the Will was entirely reasonable, given that Danielle was an adult who was fit to work and Elaine, his wife and partner for 30 years was past working age.

The view taken of Danielle’s “lifestyle choice” not to work, can be contrasted with the approach taken in Ilott v Mitson in which the Claimant’s lifestyle choices not to work and to stay at home to raise five children were held not to deprive her of an award. It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will overturn that decision.

For more information please contact Eleanor Rutherford in our Contentious Trusts and Probate team on 01604 463340 or click here to email Eleanor.