Don’t Delay Bringing Inheritance Act Claims
The Inheritance (Provisions for Family and Dependants) Act allows the dependants of a deceased person to make claims for reasonable financial provision beyond that which they have been left in the will. Inheritance Act claims don’t question the validity of the will itself. The Inheritance Act specifically aims to help individuals who were dependent on the deceased person before they passed away, such as children, spouses and other financial dependants. It is important to bring Inheritance Act claims promptly. The recent case of Sargeant v Sargeant & Anor  EWHC 8 (Ch), has shown the consequences of failing to bring a claim in time, even when the grounds for contesting a will under the Inheritance Act are strong.
What are the time limits for making Inheritance Act claims?
The time limit for bringing Inheritance Act claims is six months after the grant of representation with respect to the estate of the deceased. In other words, once the deceased person’s representative has been confirmed, any dependant who believes they were not properly financially provided for by the will has six months to make a claim under the Inheritance Act.
What is the benefit of bringing a claim promptly?
According to the Inheritance Act, a court can choose to extend the deadline at their discretion. They will consider
- whether the dependant made the claim promptly,
- reasons for any delays and
- the strength of the defendant’s claim.
Even though it is possible for the courts to allow a will dispute case that has been made outside the time limits set out in the Inheritance Act, it is important to seek legal advice and make such a claim as soon as possible. This will prevent the possibility of missing an opportunity to contest a will that fails to provide reasonable financial provision.
What happens if Inheritance Act claims are made after the time limits?
In the case of Berger v Berger  EWCA Civ 1305, a wife was prevented from claiming financial provisions under the Inheritance Act because her claim was made six years after the death of her husband, and was therefore well outside the time limits, and because the judge deemed that her grounds for contesting the will were not strong enough. However, the more recent case of Sargeant v Sargeant & Anor  EWHC 8 (Ch) has shown that challenging a will can fail because of undue delay, even when the claimant has strong grounds for contesting a will under the Inheritance Act.
In Sargeant v Sargeant & Anor, Jon Sargeant had set up a trust in his will for Mary and Jane (his wife and daughter), and for his grandchildren. The trust was discretionary, i.e managed by one or more trustees who could decide how much money to pay each beneficiary from the trust and when to pay.
The trust was set up with Mary, Jane and Jane’s children (Jon’s grandchildren) as beneficiaries. There was no dispute immediately after Jon’s death, but subsequently the value of the farmland within the trust property increased to £8 million. Mary was in financial difficulty after Jon passed away. Long after the six-month time limits, a dispute arose about the arrangements for the trust with regards to Mary’s financial position. Mary, as a discretionary beneficiary, was paid in accordance with the trustees’ discretion, and made a claim under the Inheritance Act to increase the amount of money she was receiving from the trust in the hope of achieving a reasonable level of financial provision.
The court considered factors including Mary’s knowledge that she was already in financial difficulty throughout the ten years between her husband’s death and her claim under the Inheritance Act, and the fact that she did not make an attempt to find information on how to challenge a will during this time. The court decided not to extend the time limits under the Inheritance Act, and Mary Sargeant’s claim failed.
Mary Sargeant would have had a strong claim under the Inheritance Act due to the uncertainty of a discretionary trust: as the trustees can decide whether to provide for her, there is no guarantee that Mary will receive an income from the trust. Regardless of its merits, Mary’s claim was denied for being made outside the time limits. It is therefore essential to make Inheritance Act claims as soon as possible to maximise the possibility of a successful claim.
Taking early legal advice is vital to make sure you bring your Inheritance Act claim within the time limits specified. Talk to us about your will dispute and we’ll make sure you get your claim in on time!