Estranged daughter inherits even though father’s Will states she should receive nothing
When Stanley Nahajec made his Will, he couldn't have expressed his wishes more clearly.
"I have made no provision for either of my sons or daughter. I have not seen or heard from any of my children in the last 18 years and I do not believe they have any interest in me or my welfare."
He finished: "I trust…that you as my executor will respect my wishes and ensure they receive no benefit whatsoever thereunder."
But as his daughter's successful county court claim shows, things are not always that cut and dried, even when stated in black and white.
Elena Nahajec argued that her father's Will failed to make reasonable financial provision for her, in particular because she wanted to train as a veterinary nurse which she would not be able to do if she did not inherit from her father's estate.
The judge commented that Mr Nahajec - who had left his entire £264,000 estate to his friend, Stephen Fowle - was 'stubborn, intransigent and insensitive' and that his daughter had tried many times to end the estrangement between them but had been constantly rebuffed.
He heard that she worked an average 23 hours a week in a zero-hours contract as well as nine hours paid work at a vet's surgery plus a further 10 to 15 hours unpaid work because she wanted to qualify as a veterinary nurse.
Concluding that she was far from well off and not profligate, was maximising her earning capacity and had a genuine aspiration to become a veterinary nurse, the judge awarded Elena £30,000 from her father's estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.
The case of Elena Nahajec bears striking similarities to that of Ilott v Mitson - in which a woman was cut out of her mother's Will in favour of three animal charities - which we have followed closely at Wards Solicitors in our news section.
But crucially, the Ilott case involved six hearings and the daughter only ended up with the original award of £50,000, despite it being increased to £143,000 by the Court of Appeal, when the Supreme Court restored the original award, implying that estrangement could be fatal to claims or severely reduce the value of an award.
The key point is that all claims under the 1975 Act require an exercise of judicial discretion and a detailed analysis of the specific facts of each case and that the wishes of the deceased - even when expressed with such apparent clarity - are only one factor to be taken into account. It seems unlikely, in isolation, to render reasonable in terms of non-provision a Will which, when everything else is taken into consideration, is manifestly unreasonable.
Crucially, the case shows that:
- estranged children can still receive awards under the Inheritance Act but may need to show to a court that they have tried to build bridges with their parent;
- a letter of wishes left by a parent to disinherit a child may not be enough on its own to see off a claim.
For advice on disputes concerning Wills, estates and family trusts please contact Wards Solicitors Probate disputes team or pop into your local office.
Our lawyers are members of the Association of Contentious Trusts & Probate Specialists (ACTAPS) & the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, Solicitors for the Elderly and of the Law Society's Probate Panel.