It is a difficult time for anyone when a loved one passes, but this can be further compounded when a person feels that they have been ‘left out’ of any will and will not inherit.
One way in which a person can look to remedy this situation is to make a claim pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 to seek ‘reasonable financial provision’ from the estate of the deceased.
There are many categories of people of people who are able to bring a claim under this Act but one of the most contentious categories is a child of the deceased, particularly when that child is aged 18 or over. This is also known as the peculiarly named ‘adult child’ claimant.
The Latest Guidance on Adult Children
Until recent years, the Court had not provided much guidance on how they would treat claims made by adult children; however, recently there have been several cases reported which shed some light on the current mentality of the Court. Unfortunately, many of these cases do not seem consistent at first blush.
One of the most heavily relied upon cases in this area is the case of Ilott v The Blue Cross  UKSC 17. In this case, the Court were clear that simply asserting that an adult child is in need of financial provision is not enough. There should be at least some other factor, such as an ongoing obligation to the adult child for their maintenance, before they would consider ordering an award. However, ultimately the claimant was awarded approximately 10% of the estate despite a long period of estrangement with the deceased.
By contrast, the case of Wellesley v Wellesley & Ors  held that the claimant did not require any financial provision and, even if she did, the £20,000 left to her in the Will would have been more than sufficient.
During this case, the claimant argued that case law such as Ilott and Nahajec v Fowle  WTLR 1071 (in which 13% of the estate was awarded) made it clear that adult children should be entitled to 10% of the estate value in all cases. The court did not agree and held that each case should be considered on its own facts.
By further contrast, the case of Delaforte v Flood  resulted in an award of approximately a sixth of estate. In this matter, the claimant had given up her career as a ballet dancer to care for her elderly grandmother, though the Court was clear that the award was not as a result of being a carer; it was simply what the Court considered to be reasonable financial provision.
So, what is ‘reasonable financial provision? The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 states that, in the case of children, it is “such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the applicant to receive for his maintenance”. Accordingly, reasonable financial provision can be construed quite widely.
However, the case of Shapton v Seviour (2020) has helped to clarify what an adult child can expect when making a claim due to frustration at not inheriting her father’s estate. Ms Shapton enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle with her husband but, despite having considerable income, she had managed to accumulate debts. The Court held that the debts were of her own making due to her lifestyle and it was not for the estate to assist. The judge went as far as to say that the case was “absolutely hopeless”.
In conclusion, the case law is clear that an adult child can bring a claim, but whether or not they will receive an award is completely dependent on the facts and there is no guarantee that an award will be made.
Many adult children are accused of bringing ‘frivolous’ claims even if they have a valid claim. Conversely, the executors can be criticised for defending a claim without considering settlement as the Court encourages the parties to attempt settlement in all cases.
Therefore, it is highly beneficial if all parties receive legal advice at an early stage in the case, regardless of whether they are bringing or defending the claim.
Make a Claim With Howells’ Help
If you are considering making a claim or are looking to defend a claim made against an estate, our experienced team of contentious probate solicitors can provide you with detailed advice and practical guidance. If you would like further information, please get in touch with our specialist solicitors and we will be happy to assist you.