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buying a house at market value can amount to reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance Act

Reasonable Provision: An Update on Lewis v Warner

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An update on the case of Lewis v Warner – a case which looked at reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance Act, which was appealed recently to the Court of Appeal.

Claiming Reasonable Financial Provision under the Inheritance Act 1975

Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, dependants of a deceased person can claim reasonable financial provision when the will does not adequately provide for them. We’ve looked at the case of Lewis v Warner , before. The case was unusual in that instead of claiming money – which is the usual case in Inheritance Act claims, Mr Warner wanted right to purchase his late partner’s house at market value, to avoid having to move out. Since the previous blog, this case has been further appealed to Court of Appeal, so we thought it was worth revisiting for an update.

 

The Facts of Lewis v Warner

Mr Warner was 91 years old, when his partner of 19 years, Mrs Blackwell passed away in 2014. Mr Warner was considerably wealthier than the deceased. Mrs Blackwell developed a form of dementia and it became clear that she was unlikely to live very long. Her daughter, Mrs Lewis then asked Mr Warner to sign a document expressing his intention not to make a claim on the house, to which he agreed.

Mr Warner had various medical problems, including carpel tunnel syndrome, arthritis and intestinal problems that caused him stomach pains. Due to his age and health problems, Mr Warner was reluctant to relocate after his partner passed away. Mrs Lewis told Mr Warner that she did not want him to rent the house, but that he could buy it instead. An offer to sell the house to Mr Warner for £425,000 was made in writing, but Mr Warner rejected the offer as an over valuation, leading to a will dispute.

Mr Warner made an Inheritance Act claim. At first instance, the judge found that reasonable provision had not been provided, and ordered Mrs Lewis to accept market value for the house from Mr Warner. The case was appealed to the High Court, which upheld the judgement.

 

The Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal answered two questions:

  • Firstly, whether the provision of “a roof over one’s head” constitutes maintenance; and therefore the will had failed to provide reasonable provision for the purposes of The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
  • Secondly, whether the order that Mrs Lewis should accept market value for the property was lawful.

 

The First Question: Definitions under the Inheritance Act 1975

Section 1(2)(b) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 defines “reasonable financial provision” as:

“Such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the applicant to receive for his maintenance.”

In Lewis v Warner at first instance, it was found that “maintenance of a roof over Mr Warner’s head had meant that the deceased had provided him with ‘maintenance’, which had a financial value within section 1(2)(b) of the 1975 Act”. Mr Warner could therefore claim under the Inheritance Act because his partner had been providing him with maintenance.

This decision was upheld in the High Court because the judge struck a balance between the fact Mr Warner had no moral claim on the property (he had not been promised the property, nor did he and his partner have an understanding of what would happen to it after she died), and the importance for an elderly man in Mr Warner’s circumstances, of remaining in his home. The judge in the Court of Appeal, Sir Geoffrey Vos, decided that this balance had been properly struck, and on the first question, upheld the High Court decision.

The Second Question: The Order to Accept Market Value

Section 2(1)(c) of the 1975 Act empowers a court to order the transfer of property to a successful Inheritance Act claimant. Although unusual, it is also possible for a court to order the transfer of property in exchange for consideration in response to  a claim for reasonable financial provision.

In the Court of Appeal, Sir Geoffrey Vos decided that because the previous courts had been correct to find a lack of reasonable financial provision in the will, it had been just to order the transfer of property in exchange for market value. As well as allowing Mr Warner to live in the house, this also appropriately protected the interests of the beneficiary Mrs Lewis because she would receive a fair sum for the property. On the second issue, the judge therefore upheld the previous decisions, and the appeal was dismissed.

Conclusions

Typically, in a will dispute, a successful claimant under the Inheritance Act would have been in a less favourable financial position than the deceased. However, when partners live in the same house, it is possible for one to depend on the other for maintenance, even if the owner of the house was less wealthy. This can change the approach to reasonable financial provision. It is also interesting to note the Court of Appeal judge’s comment, that if Mr Warner had been “younger and less infirm when the deceased died, he would indeed have been required to move out of the property”. Exactly what constitutes “maintenance” and “reasonable provision” under the Inheritance Act, depends on the specific circumstances of the case.

As the outcome of every will dispute depends on the specific circumstances of the individual case, it’s worth obtaining specialist legal advice before proceeding. If you would like to take advantage of our free claim assessment service, please get in touch.

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