Who can claim under the Inheritance Act 1975
Not everyone who is disappointed about a deceased’s will or the outcome of the intestacy rules can bring a claim under the Inheritance Act. Only certain categories of people are eligible to claim:
Claims by spouses or civil partners of the deceased
A widow/widower has a particularly strong claim against the estate under the Inheritance Act 1975. The court approaches these claims more generously than, for example, Inheritance Act claims by adult children, where the provision is likely to be less generous.
A widow/widower can generally expect to be able to enjoy the standard of living that they enjoyed when their partner was alive, assuming of course the estate is big enough. If that provision isn’t made for them, then the court has the power to intervene and correct the situation.
Claims by ex-spouses/civil partner of the deceased
If your ex-spouse or civil partner has died without leaving you with reasonable financial provision, you may be able to claim for this following the death of your partner. This is possible providing that you have not remarried, or that any previous divorce settlement is in place preventing you from making a claim.
For example, if you drew up a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement that had a clause restricting your ability to gain any inheritance, then you might be barred from this. To understand these rules further, and if you are considering bringing an Inheritance Act claim for reasonable financial provision following the death of an ex-spouse or civil partner, it is important to seek expert legal advice in the first instance.
Claims by cohabitees
If you have been cohabiting with the deceased in the two years just before their death, as if husband and wife, but have either been left out of the will, or have not been provided for adequately in it, you may be able to claim against the estate of the deceased under the Inheritance Act 1975. This applies to both opposite sex and same sex partners of the deceased.
It is worth noting that the court will not take into account any periods of involuntary separation, for example arising from employment, hospital visits or if one partner is living in a care home. Such occurrences would not ‘stop the clock’ for the two year period. However, if you voluntarily left the shared home and stopped cohabiting, this would count as stopping the clock.
Claims by children
This could be a child of the deceased (biological or adopted), or someone treated as a child of the deceased (e.g. a step child)
In circumstances where a parent has remarried, or has co-habited with a new partner, or where children and parents are estranged, children can be left out of a will, or not provided for fully within it. Inheritance Act claims by children are not uncommon.
A child left out of a will cannot make a claim against an estate simply because they are the child of the deceased. They will need to show some requirement for maintenance in order to do so. Estranged child inheritance may be difficult to obtain.
Inheritance Act claim for maintenance
Maintenance refers to necessary material items or income in order to meet the everyday expenses of living, and therefore must not be excessive. It is worth noting that the Inheritance Act 1975 claims also cover adult children if they are not financially independent. Again, this category of people will need to show a need for maintenance that can be provided by claiming some value from the estate of the deceased.
Claims by someone being maintained by the deceased immediately before their death
This is a catch all provision within the Inheritance Act 1975 which can be used by people who do not fit within the other categories of people, but still had a relationship with the deceased and were not adequately provided for by the will.
The definition of being maintained is fairly wide and can include the deceased paying or even just contributing to mortgage or rent, paying off debts, paying for school fees or providing someone with a regular income. Anyone who was living with the deceased prior to their death for less than two years may still be able to qualify under this section.
Inheritance Act claims by dependents involves needing to show they were being supported and also the basis upon which that support was being offered and accepted. This is something we can help with when you contact us to enquire about bringing an inheritance claim. Inheritance Act claims by cohabitants can also occur, where they hope to secure a financial maintenance claim from the estate solicitor.
What is the test for an Inheritance Act claim?
It is important to realise that even if someone is eligible to bring an Inheritance Act claim, they won’t automatically get something from the estate. It may have been entirely reasonable for the deceased not to have provided for them in their will, or made only limited provision. They may have received a lot of money or financial assistance during the deceased’s lifetime already, they may be financially independent and/or there may be a number of competing claims against the estate, which may not be large enough to satisfy them all.
When assessing what individuals are likely to receive from claims under the Inheritance Act 1975, it depends on who is making the claim. For anyone other than a spouse or civil partner, any claim is limited to what is required for their maintenance. For spouses and civil partners, the test is higher – it is what would be reasonable for them to receive in all the circumstances not limited to maintenance.
The Inheritance Act itself sets out a range of factors which would be considered when deciding what a person may receive, if anything during family inheritance disputes. These include:
• their own financial needs and resources
• the size of the estate
• whether any other person is bringing an inheritance act claim
• the resources and needs of the actual beneficiaries of the estate
• any obligations the deceased may have had towards that person
• any physical or mental disability the claimant may have
• any other matter, including any conduct which may be relevant
Each claim has to be assessed properly due to the many different scenarios that can occur case by case.