Second marriages are fruitful ground for disputes over estates and when the widow of a Sheffield multi-millionaire claimed against his £6 million estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, her claim was challenged by his two grown-up sons from his first marriage. The Act allows someone who was dependent on a person who has died to claim against their estate for ‘reasonable financial provision’ to be made if such provision has not been made in their will.
The couple had been married for just over two years when the man died, although they had cohabited for two years prior to their marriage.
The nub of the argument was not whether or not some sort of provision should be made for his widow but what type of provision would constitute ‘reasonable financial provision’. Should the settlement be determined ‘solely by reference to the claimant’s reasonable needs, including a need for financial security for the rest of her life’ or did the requirement to make a reasonable provision mean that she should be awarded ‘a substantial share in what had been their matrimonial property, in excess of her reasonable needs’?
The estate included a number of property interests, but the main assets were shares in three companies in which the man’s sons were involved. These were worth about £5 million.
The judge made his decision after considering what would have occurred were the case a ‘big money’ divorce case and taking into account the need for a ‘clean break’ between the widow and her stepsons, with whom relations were fractious.
He concluded that the provision of £500,000 for the man’s widow, to be achieved by way of the transfer to her of two properties, or one property and the market value of another, would suffice.
The award was closer to the sum needed for the widow to maintain her ‘pre-marriage’ lifestyle rather than the lifestyle she had enjoyed with her husband and may be considered to be an indicator of the approach the courts will take in similar cases in the future.