Claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 – or as they are often called Inheritance Act claims, or 1975 claims – are claims that a deceased person has failed to make reasonable provision for the applicant in their will or that reasonable provision has not been made for them under the intestacy rules in cases where the deceased did not make a will. These claims can only be brought by specific categories of people. The people are:-
the spouse or civil partner of the deceased;
former spouse or former civil partner of the deceased but not one who has formed a subsequent marriage or civil partnership;
a child of the deceased;
any person who was not a child of the deceased but was treated as a child of the deceased e.g. stepchildren; and
any person who immediately before the death of the deceased was maintained by the deceased.
This is a relatively wide category of people. Maintenance generally refers to financial maintenance (e.g. the deceased was funding their lifestyle, paying their living expenses, or else they lived with the deceased and were being maintained by them e.g. they were living there rent free).
The case of Archibald v Stewart and Another
The recent case of Archibald v Stewart and Another (2023) goes to show that these categories can sometimes exclude prospective claimants.
In the case of Archibald, a 1975 Act claim was issued by Neil and his wife, Julie. The claim was against the estate of Neil’s parents. Unfortunately, after the claim was issued but before it was determined, Neil died. This left the court having to decide whether the claim survived his death and could be continued by Julie as his personal representative, or whether the claim died with him.
The position prior to 2023 was that 1975 Act claims always died with the applicant. It is possible for some legal claims to be continued by the personal representatives of the deceased following the death even if that death occurs post-issue. For example, if the deceased had commenced a debt collection claim, his estate would still have the right to continue that claim and call in the debt so that the amount formed part of the estate. However, the determination in previous cases was that a 1975 Act claim was not a cause or right of action. It was a mere hope or contingency of provision from an estate and that it did not survive a person’s death.
The Supreme Court seem to change this position in the case of Unger v Ul-Hassan stating that a financial order claim is not a mere hope of contingency and claims for financial orders are a cause of action. However that is in the context of matrimonial legislation. The court decided in the case of Archibald v Stewart and Another that the same rules did not apply outside of the marital context and as Neil’s claim was against his parents estate, it did not survive his death.
Accordingly, Neil's claim was dismissed and the court was left to decide whether Julie could pursue a claim in her own right. Julie's legal representatives sought to argue that she had the right to bring a claim as someone who was treated as a child of the family. Whilst the court accepted that there was evidence of support and affection between Julie and her in-laws, the court did not think that this amounted to any evidence that the relationship between them was more than what one might normally expect between a person and their in-laws. Accordingly, Julie was not deemed to have been treated as a child of the family and her claim was also struck out.
This case serves as a useful summary on the circumstances in which claims may be continued post-death of the applicant, and also a reminder to applicants in 1975 Act claims to ensure they are clear on the category of potential applicants that they fall into prior to issuing their proceedings.
In fact, even in circumstances where Neil had not died, Julie had also brought a claim in her own right. It is likely that the Court would have determined at or before trial that Julie did not have standing in her own right to bring a claim, and that the claim was only on Neil’s behalf. Julie may have found herself facing an adverse costs order for having brought a claim that she was not entitled to bring and necessarily incurring additional costs for the estate as a result.
If you require any advice on disputing an estate, if you think you have been left out of a Will, or on bringing a 1975 Act claim, please contact Charlotte Braham by email or on 01494 893529