Dignam-Thomas and Bebbington v McCourt and Another (Inheritance Act 1975)  EWHC 546 (Fam)14 March 2023
Published: 14/04/2023 09:00
Theis J. Application by two sisters in parlous financial and physical health for reasonable financial provision from their father’s estate, the estate having been left to their brother. Application was limited by 1975 Act to what was reasonable in all the circumstances for them to receive for their maintenance. Illot v Blue Cross  UKSC 17 considered as helpfully summarised in Paul v Paul  EWHC 1638 – our summary here.
The deceased had provided financial support to the first claimant (aged 61). She saw the deceased regularly, and helped with personal care/medical appointments. She was a carer for her husband’s considerable health needs and she had her own significant health needs; these affected her ability to undertake basic household tasks. They spent more than they received and were in debt, and although there was equity in their home of £86,000 after mortgage and debts discharged, they faced repossession. Her husband’s shortened life expectancy meant she would at some point lose his pension income. She sought £117,000.
The second claimant was a 68-year-old widow with adult children. She was almost blind with multiple other health problems and her children cared for her but this was not sustainable in the long term. A need for paid care and assistance for 6 hours a day was not unreasonable. Her relationship with and financial dependency upon the deceased were similar to that of the first claimant. She had a monthly income shortfall of £596 and had home refurbishment and wheelchair needs. She sought £114,300.
Held: Will did not make reasonable financial provision for the claimants. The deceased had said he intended to make provision for them and also provide a home for their brother, but the will benefited only the latter. There had been a two-way street of support between the claimants and the deceased and the deceased had financially provided for them.
The court awarded the first claimant £70,000 so that she would end up with £150,000 once her house sold. Once house sold and debts cleared, their income would be freed up. The second claimant should receive £90,000. Combined with equity release she would end up with £190,000.
The first defendant was the personal representative of the estate. The second defendant, the brother, was served but took no part in the proceedings and although there was evidence of multiple healthcare needs these did not prevent him from being able to engage if he chose. He had been warned that the court might make an order requiring him to sell the deceased’s home, in which he lived. The court declined to treat him, as a result of his non-participation, as having no competing needs. The deceased had wanted to secure housing for him. His income was believed to be £19,000 p.a. and he could rent. His life expectancy was 14 years and a Duxbury fund for rental costs would give him £30,000. He would receive the balance of the estate, £173,000.
Costs (which were considerable) to be determined following submissions.