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11th January 2018

Do not delay – Out of time 1975 Act claim by spouse is refused permission

The High Court have recently refused permission to a widow to bring her claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependents) Act 1975 out of time, where the claim was over 10 years too late (Sargeant v Sargeant & Anor [2018] EWHC 8 (Ch)).

The Claimant, known as Mary Sargeant, had been married to her Deceased husband Joe Sargeant, for 45 years when he died. Joe was a farmer and at the time of his death, substantially all the assets of the marriage were owned by Joe. Joe and Mary had two children, Jeff (who was Mary’s child from a previous relationship and adopted by Joe) and Jane.

Joe died in May 2005, leaving a Will dated 20 February 2002. Under the Will Joe left his guns and fishing equipment to Jeff and the rest of his chattels and a life policy to the value of £75,000 to Mary. The remainder of his Estate was left to his executors to hold on discretionary trust. The potential beneficiaries under the trust were Mary, Jane and Jane’s children (excluding Jeff). A Grant of Probate was issued in Joe’s estate on 30 March 2006. The net estate was valued at over £3.2million. It is now expected to be worth closer to £8 million.

Following Joe’s death an arrangement was entered into whereby Mary received a salary of £20,400 free of tax, together with money to cover household expenses. In 2009, Mary became concerned about her financial position. By 2012, Mary was spending in the region of £40,000 per annum. In 2014, Mary again advised Trustees she was short of funds. Matters could not be resolved between the various interested parties, resulting in Mary issuing Court proceedings in July 2016.

In law, Mary as the spouse of the Deceased, had the right to bring a claim under S.1(1)(a) of the 1975 Act for “such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for a …wife to receive, whether or not that provision is required for…her maintenance.” However the time limit within which to bring such a claim is 6 months from the date of the grant of probate. Mary was years out of time. Accordingly Mary required the permission of the Court, under S.2 of the 1975 Act, to bring her claim out of time. Her daughter Jane opposed Mary’s application for permission.

His Honour Judge David Cooke in hearing the claim, determined that “the claimant has not made out a sufficient case that is right and just to permit the claim to proceed”. Despite Mary having a claim with reasonably good prospects of success, Mary had every opportunity to seek legal advice and chose not to. HHJ Cooke held that “Mary took her own decision to continue to work within the arrangements provided for by the will rather than to explore whether she had any option available to vary them, in the full knowledge of the financial difficulties she was under, and maintained that decision over a very long period.” Permission was refused, preventing Mary from pursuing her claim.

The case highlights the importance of not delaying in bringing a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependents) Act 1975, even if the Claimant is a spouse of the Deceased with a meritorious claim.

 

Case Citation: Sargeant v Sargeant & Anor [2018] EWHC 8 (Ch)

For more information please contact Tiffany Wiggett in our Contentious Trusts & Probate team on 01604 463340 or click here to email Tiffany.