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Daughters fail in their claim for reasonable financial provision from wealthy father’s estate
The reluctance of the Courts to make awards for reasonable financial provision to adult children whom they perceive as not having such a need has recently been underlined by the ruling in Miles v Shearer. This approach has been taken consistently, even in circumstances where the deceased has left a significant estate, although every case is decided on its facts.
In 2017, Tony Shearer died, aged 68, as a result of a brain tumour and, following a successful career, he had accrued a sizeable estate by the time of his death. He had two daughters (the claimants in this case) with his first wife before they divorced in 2007 and later married Pamela (the defendant).
Mr Shearer’s daughters, Juliet, 40, and Lauretta, 38, had benefitted from their father’s wealth in receiving private education and taking expensive gap years. They also received large gifts from their father in 2008, of £177,000 and £185,000 respectively. When making these gifts, Mr Shearer made it clear in writing to his daughters that this would be his final financial contribution to them both, their relationship having become somewhat strained since the 2007 divorce.
Mr Shearer remained true to his word, leaving nothing to his two daughters in his Will. Consequently, Juliet and Lauretta brought claims against his estate under s 1(1)(c) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for reasonable financial provision for their maintenance.
However, both Juliet and Lauretta were in prosperous situations. Now living in a large property with her mother and autistic daughter, Juliet sought a fund for housing, professional retraining and a loss in income. She had capital amounting to £175,000. Lauretta, meanwhile, claimed for a sums to re-mortgage and ‘buy out’ her ex-husband’s share of the property she lived in. Lauretta collected a salary of circa £70,000 per annum and had around £300,000 of capital tied up in her property.
Despite the claimants and defendant attending a mediation to reach an agreement, this proved to be unsuccessful and Court proceedings were issued before the trial in April 2021.
The defendant argued that they claimants had not demonstrated a financial need for maintenance and pointed to their treating their father as a ‘chequebook’ as a further reason why they should not benefit from his estate.
In making his ruling, the Judge held that their individual circumstances and financial standing meant that neither Juliet nor Lauretta had a legitimate claim for reasonable financial provision from their father’s estate. He added that the deceased was under no legal obligation to support an adult child. Mr Shearer’s conduct towards his daughters after his divorce from their mother was not unreasonable and they should have had no expectation of financial benefit from him.
The Judge found that Mr Shearer had already made generous provision for Juliet and Lauretta whilst he was alive, and had made clear that no further provision would be forthcoming.
This case demonstrates that some claims for reasonable financial provision will prove fruitless, especially where the claimant is unable to evidence a financial need. In arriving at its decision in this case, the Court took into account the fact that the claimants were comfortably able to support themselves financially. However, this may not be the end of the matter, as the claimants have been given permission to appeal.