In a recent inheritance claim case, a disabled adult won £195,000 from his late mother’s estate after being left out of her Will. The estate’s executor and beneficiary subsequently lost an appeal, with the appeal court upholding the original decision.
Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, certain individuals are entitled to make a claim against an estate if they are left without ‘reasonable financial provision’. This includes the deceased’s children, spouse, civil partner, former spouse or civil partner, someone who was living with the deceased for at least two years before their death, someone who was treated as their child by the deceased and someone who was maintained financially by the deceased.
The recent case of Fennessy v Turner 2022 brought under this Act was successful for the claimant.
Fennessy v Turner 2022
The case was brought by Patrick Fennessy, the 60-year-old son of Hazel Fennessy who died in 2020. Her Will left everything in her estate, which had a net value of £336,089, to a Mrs June Turner. Mrs Turner is a vet and it was noted that she had adequate means of support and did not need the money from the estate to support herself.
Mr Fennessy had been granted a 25-year lease of the family coal yard at a peppercorn rent and at some point, his mother and late sister Heidi, who predeceased his mother by six weeks, had assured him that he would inherit ‘everything’ in due course.
In 2011, it was suggested that Mr Fennessy move in with Hazel and Heidi. Mr Fennessy rejected this suggestion and it is likely that this discussion led to his mother and sister having Wills drawn up that did not include him.
He was not told about the terms of the Wills and continued in a dutiful relationship with his mother.
In 2019, he said that he owned the freehold of the coal yard. This prompted his sister to want to cut him off and she also influenced their mother not to contact him. His sister died shortly before their mother.
Mr Fennessy had very limited means and lived very frugally. He was disabled and only able to work part-time in a pub, with no prospect of increasing his hours because of his health. He lived in a motorhome which was cold and damp and not appropriate considering he suffered badly from osteoarthritis.
The judge awarded Mr Fennessy just over £195,000 from the estate. The judge considered this to be a reasonable financial provision to make up Mr Fennessy’s deficit in income and assist with his need for housing, furniture and white goods as well as to pay the success fees that were payable to his solicitor and barrister under his conditional fee agreements with them.
Mr Fennessy had made an early offer to Mrs Turner to settle the case for a much lower sum, which she had declined. When he beat this offer at trial, he was also awarded his costs as well as a penalty of 10% and interest at the rate of 5%, payable personally by Mrs Turner.
Mrs Turner appealed the decision. The appeal court upheld the decision and made the following points:
- While the payment could be considered generous, it was not beyond generous and the fact that it was generous was no reason for the appeal court to change the amount payable
- The promises made to the claimant gave rise to a moral claim, even though they were not particularly clear
- While people have testamentary freedom, or the right to leave their estate wherever they choose, this does not have overriding importance when considering the Inheritance Act
- It was right that the original judge took a costs-blind approach as it could not have been anticipated that Mr Fennessy would receive his costs, nor that Mrs Turner would receive very little of the estate as she was required to pay the costs
Lessons from the case
The appeal court noted that Mrs Turner did not accept the reasonable and low offer to settle that the claimant made early on, but pressed on with the case. Sensible offers to settle should be properly considered and attempts made to find a resolution without the need for a trial.
The Inheritance Act should not be underestimated. Even if the testator has set out different wishes, there is no guarantee that these will be followed. The Act exists to ensure that those in financial need receive enough for their maintenance
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