Widow can claim share of husband's estate despite 26-year delay
A widow has won the right to claim a share of her of her husband’s estate even though she was 26 years late in beginning legal proceedings.
Shantabai Bhusate, aged 67, was the third wife of Kashinath Bhusate, who died intestate in 1990 at the age of 72. He left five children from his first marriage.
Mrs Bhusate spoke little English and her education was limited. The High Court was told that relations between her and her step-children were strained. The estate's primary asset was a house whose value had risen from £135,000 in 1990 to around £850,000 today.
In 1991, Mrs Bhusate had been entitled to a £75,000 statutory legacy, a half share of the residuary estate on trust for her absolutely, and a life interest in a half share of the residuary estate. However, the only way she could have received her entitlement was if the house was sold, and that did not happen.
It had not proved possible to achieve a sale price that was acceptable to the step-children, and they took it off the market in 1994.
Mrs Bhusate continued to live in the house. In 2017 she applied for payment of the statutory legacy and her capitalised life interest. Permission was vigorously opposed by the step-children, who didn’t want her to receive anything. The claims were struck out on the basis that they were almost 26 years out of time.
The High Court has overturned that decision and granted her permission to go ahead. It accepted there was no reported case in which anyone had been permitted to bring a claim so far out of time.
Nevertheless, the court had a discretion to grant an extension in accordance with the guidelines set out in law and this was an exceptional case.
Mrs Bhusate suffered from arthritis and had an obvious need for housing and income; the step-children had no competing needs and there were no other applicants to consider.
Had there been a divorce, Mrs Bhusate would not have received less than half of the matrimonial home. The delay, though very long at almost 26 years, did not necessarily mean that permission should not be granted.
Indeed, the step-children had engaged in such hostile and obstructive behaviour that it could be said to count in her favour. She was effectively powerless when they took the house off the market in 1994: she lacked money, experience and understanding.
The step-children had done nothing to break the deadlock and had taken no action until she asserted her rights in 2017.
Please contact Benedict Smith if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of wills and probate.