Take as an example - Sarah, who meets Ben, a wealthy businessman. Ben is divorced and has children from his first marriage. Ben invites Sarah to move in with him and Sarah gives up her job to spend more leisure time with him. The couple enjoy a high standard of living, including expensive holidays, sailing on Ben's yacht, dining out at Michelin-starred restaurants and pursuing their mutual love of purchasing fine art. They are happy together for over a decade until Ben dies unexpectedly.
Ben's Will leaves Sarah a fraction of his overall wealth and a limited right to live in their home which is subject to many conditions and she is not the legal owner. Ben's adult children inherit the bulk of his multi-million estate. Sarah has no income and cannot afford to pay the bills in their large house nor can she afford their old lifestyle - Ben used to cover all this.
Some cohabitees, like Sarah and Ben, who have lived together for at least 2 years are eligible to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
Although Sarah is eligible to issue a claim, to succeed, she must demonstrate to the court that Ben has failed to provide sufficiently for her in his Will. The court will take several factors into account when deciding how much Sarah should receive, including her own financial position and the size of Ben's estate.
There have been several cases, including Negus v Bahouse, decided in the Court of Appeal, that direct courts also to consider the level of lifestyle enjoyed by a couple and the cost for the survivor of continuing it, when assessing what claimants like Sarah should receive. So the holidays, art purchases, and other expensive activities enjoyed by Ben and Sarah will be relevant, amongst other factors, in deciding Sarah's claim.
Spouses and civil partners who claim are likely to receive a higher award, as the starting point for a court would be to award 50% of the estate to Sarah (akin to a divorce), unless the court finds good reason to depart from this referring to the relevant criteria. There are also valuable tax savings to be gained as spousal/ civil partner awards are exempt from inheritance tax.
The Act was made in 1975 and the law is out-of-step with how many couples live now. Strict time limits also apply in these claims. Expert advice and a robust approach is needed to achieve the best outcomes.
Our large team of contentious probate specialists have in-depth knowledge and experience of advising both spouses/civil partners and cohabitees in these claims and also in advising family members, as defendants.