The Legacy of a Letter

This is a post about an Inheritance Act 1975 claim by an adult child; but it is also a poignant human story about a family feud, about a daughter’s letter sent in wrath, and a mother’s letter that was written but never sent. Those letters came, four years after the deceased’s death (and over a decade after the letters themselves were written) to determine the outcome of the claim.

Dolores Del Rio with her mother on the steps of a train, holding a bouquet of roses, ca. 1929-1932. From the University of Washington Coillection on Flickr Commons.

Dolores Del Rio with her mother on the steps of a train, holding a bouquet of roses, ca. 1929-1932. From the University of Washington Coillection on Flickr Commons.

Claims by adult children under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 used to be relatively rare and there was for some time an argument abroad that these claimants, particularly if they were financially independent of the deceased and/or were able to work, had a “heavy burden” in convincing the Court that reasonable provision had not been made for them. More recently, and certainly from 1999 onwards when Espinosa v Bourke [1999] 1 FLR 747 was decided, there has been a more open approach. That said, most successful adult child claimants have been able to demonstrate either a financial dependency, or a serious financial need even where they are in employment.

The real difficulties often arise when either or both of these factors are combined with a significant, and often acrimonious, family feud which has resulted in the son or daughter [for convenience, and because the Wright case involved a daughter, I will refer only to “daughter” in future, but sons are of course included] being excluded from the parent’s Will. In fact, the two most interesting 1975 Act adult child cases this year, Ilott v Mitson and Wright v Waters, have both taken place against a background of irreconcilable family differences, though with rather different causes and different results.

The first question for the Court is not whether the person who made the will was being “reasonable” in the sense of recognising a general/moral obligation to leave money within the family: testatrices are still able to, and still do, leave all their worldly goods to the donkey sanctuary if they so choose. The only litigable question is whether the provision under the Will (including where there is no provision at all) is reasonably sufficient for the claimant’s maintenance. Making that decision involves considering all of the relevant facts under section 3(1) of the 1975 Act, which I’ll discuss in a moment.  Continue reading