A woman who had lived with her partner for 42 years but was left nothing when he died has been awarded a cottage and money to refurbish it and live on by a High Court judge.
The decision, which could yet be appealed, is considered significant as it paves the way for cohabitees, who currently have no automatic rights to their partner’s estate, to secure financial provision that ‘reflects their contribution to the relationship’.
What happened in this case?
Mr Wynford Hodge did not leave Joan Thompson, aged 79, a penny in his Will. Instead, he bequeathed his entire estate, valued at more than £1.5 million, to two tenants who had worked on the caravan park he owned in Pembrokeshire and run errands for him.
In an accompanying letter of wishes attached to his Will, Mr Hodge specifically said he did not want Ms Thompson or any of her four children to inherit any of his wealth. He described her as ‘financially comfortable’ with no need for his money.
The court heard that Mr Hodge had made ten Wills before his death and all the earlier Wills had made provision for Ms Thompson. His reasons for not making provision in the latest version was that she would not need the money, would not be able to live in any property independently and would need to go into a home after his death.
Ms Thompson pursued a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 against her late partner.
Judge Milwyn Jarman, who said that Ms Thompson had modest savings of about £2,500 and was not in fact financially comfortable at all, ruled that she should be given reasonable provision for her maintenance.
Taking into account the length of the couple’s relationship and Ms Thompson’s financial dependency on Mr Hodge, he ruled that she should have a cottage worth £225,000 – a property originally bought for the couple to live in – outright rather than as a life interest. He also awarded her almost £30,000 for necessary alterations and £160,000 for further maintenance and care.
The tenants named in Mr Hodge’s Will as the two sole beneficiaries were left with the remainder of the substantial estate.
Judge Jarman concluded: “Whilst the wishes of Mr Hodge that Ms Thompson’s family should not benefit from any provision for her should be given appropriate weight, those wishes should not hinder the reasonable provision for her maintenance. That is the mistake he made in his letter of wishes which led to no provision at all being made.”
Courts have long been grappling with the issue of reasonable provision.
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