Wife waited too long to seek better deal from husband's will
People who feel they have not been properly provided for in a relative’s will can ask the courts to step in and grant them a larger share of the deceased person’s estate.
However, unless there are exceptional circumstances, they usually have to begin proceedings within a six-month time limit. Failure to so do could mean the claim will be rejected, as happened in a recent case that went to the Court of Appeal.
It involved a woman whose husband died in 2005. They had been together for 36 years. The husband had two sons from a previous marriage. His will provided his wife with specific gifts and said that the sons also had the power to provide for her from the estate.
The wife wasn’t happy with the amounts paid to her by the sons. She discussed the matter with her accountants in 2005 but did not begin legal proceedings until 2011, six years after the expiry of the six-month time limit.
The judge at the first hearing found that it was clearly the husband’s intention that she should receive a substantial income from the estate, but her claim could not be granted because she had not acted promptly enough.
The Court of Appeal upheld that decision. It pointed out that if the couple had been divorced on the day the husband died, it was quite likely that the wife would have been granted half the assets within the estate, given the length of the marriage.
It was therefore arguable that she had a good case for a better financial provision from the will.
However, there were no exceptional circumstances that could justify the delay in making a claim. Her complaint that she was not receiving enough for her needs was apparent from the outset but she had done nothing about it.
Therefore, she could not be allowed to make a claim six years after the expiry of the time limit.
Please contact Nigel Gibson Birch and Meg Cooper if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of wills and probate.