Reasonable financial provision for a widow
Recent case brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
The case of Kaur v Estate of Karnail Singh & Ors is a recent case which was decided in favour of the deceased’s wife, Mrs Harbans Kaur.
Mr Singh died in 2021, leaving behind his wife, Mrs Kaur, and their six surviving children. By his Will dated 25 June 2005, Mr Singh’s estate was left in equal shares to two of the six children, who were the two sons of Mr Singh and Mrs Kaur. Mrs Kaur and their four daughters were not named as beneficiaries to Mr Kaur’s will and evidence produced in Court revealed that Mr Singh wished to leave his estate solely down the male line.
Mr Singh’s estate was comprised of wealth built up during his marriage to Mrs Kaur and his estate had an estimated value (before tax and costs) of around £1,990,000. The estate comprised the former matrimonial home; four let residential properties; a commercial property and some land and property in India.
Mrs Kaur was 83 years old at the time of the hearing and the Court found that she had played a full role in the marriage and worked in the family clothing business, albeit she had no direct interest in the business and did not receive a salary. Her income consisted of state benefits and the Court found that she had very modest assets and had been financially dependent on Mr Singh who met all the family outgoings.
Mrs Kaur also had a number of medical conditions and was registered disabled. Since the death of her husband, Mrs Kaur had moved out of the family home and was living with her daughter, because one of the sons had moved into the family home and her relationship with this son was very strained.
Mrs Kaur made a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the 1975 Act”) from Mr Singh’s estate and claimed half of Mr Singh’s estate. One of her sons did not oppose her claim, and the other son did not engage with the proceedings or attend the hearing, and the Court decided to proceed in his absence.
The Court looked at two questions:
- Did the Will fail to make reasonable financial provision for Mrs Kaur?
- If so, what should the financial provision be?
The Court considered several factors under the 1975 Act when deciding Mrs Kaur’s claim. These include:
- The financial resources and financial needs the applicant has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.
- The financial resources and financial needs which any beneficiary of the estate has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.
- Any obligations and responsibilities the deceased had towards any other applicant or beneficiary of the estate.
- The size and nature of the net estate of the deceased.
- Any physical or mental disability of the applicant.
- The age of the applicant and the duration of the marriage.
- The contribution made by the applicant to the welfare of the family, including any contribution made by looking after the home or caring for the family.
The Court found that, after a long marriage of 66 years, to which Mrs Kaur made a full and equal contribution, and during which time all the assets had accrued, the relevant factors unerringly pointed towards an equal division of the assets. Mrs Kaur had expressly stated that a 50% share of Mr Singh’s estate would meet her needs and that her intention was to purchase a modest property near her daughter.
The Court found that Mr Singh did not make reasonable financial provision for Mrs Kaur, and that she should receive 50% of the net value of Mr Kaur’s estate. The Court also confirmed that Mrs Kaur’s legal costs should be paid from the gross value of the estate before the division of the estate into equal 50% shares.
Although we have testamentary freedom and we can in theory make Wills which leave our estates as we choose, the case makes it clear that this freedom must be balanced against the need to make reasonable and fair provision for dependants. It is extremely difficult to show that reasonable financial provision has been made where a spouse been left out of the Will, despite having contributed for a significant number of years towards the family’s wealth and welfare. The case acknowledges that someone cannot simply be cut out of a Will because the individual wishes to pass their assets to some of their family members and exclude others.