The claim was brought by Tara Wellesley against her father, the Earl Cowley’s estate. The estate was worth £1.3m and Tara had been left £20,000. The rest of the estate was left to his fourth wife for life, to be divided on her death between his son and 5 step children.
Tara made a claim using the Inheritance Provision for Family and Dependants Act (1975) for a substantial part of the estate, arguing that she needed such funds as would allow her to train and work as an artist.
The claim failed in its entirety.
Tara had had been estranged from the Earl for over 30 years, this was mainly due to the Earl disapproving of her lifestyle which was described as ‘chaotic’. In her younger days especially, Tara drank heavily, used drugs and was in with the wrong crowd. When the Earl’s early attempts to help Tara failed the relationship broke down and was never repaired.
Tara had a difficult upbringing. She lived with her mother, who was a troubled woman herself, until she was around 11 and then spent time in care. She was unable to ever settle into the family home of her father which he shared with his widow and her children.
Tara has her own son who is now aged 21 and he lives in a residential home for adults with special needs.
Tara had not worked for several years and said this was due to a diagnosis of ADHD, the court did not accept that her ADHD would prevent her from working. She lived on state benefits but had dreams of becoming an artist.
The Judge awarded Tara nothing from the estate over the £20,000 she had already been left. The main reason for this was the long estrangement and the Judge placed the blame for this on Tara. He did however say that even without the estrangement her claim would have failed. This is due to Tara living within her means, having had no financial support from the Earl during her adult life; she was capable of working; and if she needed help to get back into work she could use her £20,000 legacy.
The right of the Earl to leave his estate to whom he wanted (testamentary freedom) also played a role in the claim failing. The Judge did not think the Earl had been unreasonable in only leaving Tara £20,000. Whether the Judge would have had a different view had Tara been left nothing is an interesting question and one we will never know the answer to.
Tara also claimed it was a breach of the Human Rights Act to force her to live on state benefits when there was inheritance money available to her. This argument was rejected. I struggle to see how this could be successfully argued in future cases particularly where the claimant is in control of whether they work or not and their decision not to work makes them reliant on state benefits.
For now adult children claims are still difficult to predict but the courts are certainly leaning towards rejecting claims.
This case demonstrates the need for parties to instruct experienced legal advisors to guide them through this complex legal process. Using the Certainty Contentious Probate Hub & Area to search for experienced contentious probate solicitors will greatly assist anyone who is bringing or defending such claims.
This article was written by by Alexa Payet, Partner at Bolt Burdon, member of Certainty Contentious Probate Hub & Area.