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Woman wins £325,000 from late partner’s estate after ‘sad dispute’ with his daughters

A woman misled into moving out of the home she’d shared with her partner by his two daughters after he died has won her claim for reasonable financial provision from his estate.

Carole Taylor, 70, was awarded £325,000 after a judge ruled that she and James Redmond, whilst not married, had lived together as man and wife.

He ordered that Mr Redmond’s two daughters, the sole beneficiaries of his Will, should pay the money to Ms Taylor directly from his £900,000 estate.

Background

Carole Taylor had lived with James Redmond for seven years and cared for him as he became progressively ill with prostate cancer.

He died in 2014 and his Will, which had been made 20 years earlier, left everything to his two daughters, Jane Redmond and Lynn Leberknight.

But Mrs Leberknight then incorrectly told Ms Taylor that Mr Redmond’s one-bedroom flat had to be sold, alleging it was something she had no control over because it hadn’t in fact been left to her and her sister after all.

As a result, Ms Taylor – who had been financially dependent on Mr Redmond – moved out, went to live with her son in Lincolnshire and filed a claim for a share of the estate.

‘A sad dispute’

When the case was heard at Central London County Court, Judge Stephen Hockman QC called it ‘a sad dispute’.

“It’s a great pity to see people, who I am sure are inherently decent people, falling out and accusing each other of lying,” he said.

Mr Redmond’s daughters fought Ms Taylor’s claim all the way telling the court that their father was not the ‘marrying type’ and though he loved Ms Taylor, their relationship was not exclusive. They also claimed he had asked her to move out.

Ms Taylor, who said that Mr Redmond had given her assurances she would be provided for after his death, said: “We were very much in love, we didn’t need to be married. I was his partner and he was mine.”

Judge Hockman took a dim view of the way the sisters had told Ms Taylor to leave the flat. “Whilst it was not unlawful to take this stance,” he said, “it could hardly be said that the matter was handled with sensitivity.”

Legal requirements satisfied

After hearing that Mrs Leberknight had described Ms Taylor as her ‘stepmother’ in a letter while hospital records suggested Mr Redmond described her as his partner, Judge Hockman said he was satisfied that they’d shared a household as man and wife and that Ms Taylor was eligible to bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.

He concluded: “I find it improbable in the extreme that Mr Redmond, in the final months of his life, and in deteriorating health, chose to bring to an end a relationship which had for some years provided him with intimacy and support, with a woman whom he clearly loved, and who equally returned his affection.

“I am therefore satisfied that Ms Taylor did live with Mr Redmond in the same household as him…throughout the period in which they were together. I am equally satisfied that Mr Redmond and Ms Taylor lived together as man and wife and in particular that Ms Taylor lived with Mr Redmond as his wife.”

He ordered that the sisters pay £325,000 to Ms Taylor from their father’s estate with £180,000 of that being invested in a property for her to live in. On Ms Taylor’s death, the interest in the property is to revert to the sisters.

He also ordered them to pay Ms Taylor’s legal costs as well as their own.

Implications

The case shows that where a court considers that reasonable financial provision has not been made for someone in a Will, then it can order an estate to be redistributed, as long as the claimant falls within a category of eligible applicant.

It also shows that when cohabiting, as Ms Taylor and Mr Redmond were, things would have been much more straightforward if Mr Redmond had made it crystal clear in his Will exactly what provision he wanted to make for his partner, be that giving her the flat outright or the right to live there until she herself died.

Important lessons can be learned from this case including:

  • 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;
  • If you think you do have a reason to contest or challenge a Will, or bring a claim against an estate, taking legal advice as soon as possible as some claims are time limited.

You can read more about the rise in people contesting or challenging a Will, including some key advice, by clicking here.

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.

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