Cohabitee wins reasonable financial provision claim from deceased partner’s estate
A disabled man left just £5,000 in his cohabiting partner's Will after a 20 year relationship and faced with having to move out of the home they shared, had not had reasonable financial provision made for him, the High Court has ruled.
In the recently heard case, Mr Andrew Banfield was awarded a life interest in half the proceeds of the sale of Mrs Sarah Campbell's £725,000 home to be invested in alternative accommodation for him, after he challenged her Will.
Mrs Campbell, who died unexpectedly in 2015, had named her son, James, as the main beneficiary. He claimed he had been promised the whole estate and that Mr Banfield was more like a lodger than his mother's partner.
In his judgement, Judge Paul Teverson highlighted the precarious legal position of many cohabitees, stating: "The circumstances of this present case provide an example of the vulnerable position in which cohabitants find themselves if they unexpectedly survive their partner."
Mrs Campbell started a relationship with Mr Banfield a couple of years after her husband died and he moved permanently into her home in Thames Ditton, near London, in 2001.
Mrs Campbell's Will, also made in 2001, left £5,000 to Mr Banfield and the rest of her estate to her son, James.
In court, Mr Banfield claimed that he and Mrs Campbell had become engaged in 1999, six years after the start of their relationship, and that he had effectively been a husband to her for more than a decade.
On the other hand, James Campbell denied any engagement had taken place and said his mother's feelings towards Mr Banfield had deteriorated to the point where she considered him 'no more than a lodger'.
Mr Banfield, facing homelessness because the house he'd shared with Mrs Campbell was due to be inherited by James and almost certainly sold, brought a claim for reasonable financial provision from her estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
He said a £5,000 legacy was not acceptable after such a long relationship, living together at Mrs Campbell's house. He said he needed £450,000 for a ground floor maisonette with a garden in Thames Ditton, an expensive suburb of London.
Mr Campbell said this was excessive. He accepted Mr Banfield had a housing need but that suitable accommodation could be found for closer to £220,000.
Judge Teverson ordered that the house should be sold for at least £725,000 and for Mr Banfield to have a life interest in one half of the net proceeds of the sale to put towards alternative accommodation.
Ruling that he accepted that Mr Banfield had lived with Mrs Campbell as her husband, he said: "I do not think it is right or fair to characterise Mr Banfield as being no more than a lodger.
"The relationship continued to contain an element of mutual support with the deceased making it clear to close friends that she did not want to be on her own."
By granting a life interest, rather than a capital sum, he took into account that Mrs Campbell had inherited the house from her late husband, James' father, meaning that on Mr Banfield's death, the money would pass to James.
In this way he balanced the needs of the beneficiary, Mr Campbell, with the claimant, Mr Banfield, whilst recognising Mrs Campbell's testamentary freedom to leave her estate to whoever she wished.
He also ordered that £20,000 of the estate's funds be retained in case the property purchased by Mr Banfield needed adapting. He also ordered Mr Campbell to pay £50,000 towards Mr Banfield's court costs.
The case shows that where a court perceives there has been unfairness, and reasonable financial provision has not been made for someone in a Will, then it can order an estate to be redistributed.
Two important lessons can also be learned from it:
- The importance of cohabitees seeking independent legal advice about their legal position;
- Making sure that having made a Will, you regularly update it to reflect any changes in your personal circumstances.
For help and advice about contesting or challenging a Will, please contact Wards Solicitors' Probate Disputes Team or for more guidance and information about the law relating to cohabitation, please contact Wards Solicitors' specialist Cohabitation Team.