Keeping your will up to date is important to make sure it reflects your personal circumstances at the time

Martin v Williams – when a will hasn’t been updated

The High Court has recently considered a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 in circumstances where the will left everything to the Testator’s wife, from whom he had been separated for many years, and nothing to his long term partner. We look at Martin v Williams [2017] EHWC 491 (Ch) .

The Facts

At the time of his death in 2012, Mr Martin had been separated from his wife, Maureen Martin, for many years, although they had never divorced. He had been cohabiting with Joy Williams for 18 years, but had not updated his will to reflect his changed circumstances. The will left everything to his wife, Maureen Martin, including Mr Martin’s share of the home he owned with Ms Williams as Tenants in Common.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Ms Williams brought a claim under the Inheritance Act (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, essentially seeking an order granting her Mr Martin’s share of the property they shared. The Judge in the Central London County Court found in her favour. He agreed that she was living in the same household as Mr Martin as his wife and had been for 2 years before his death, and was entitled to apply for maintenance under the Inheritance Act. He found that the will did not make reasonable provision for her, and granted her Mr Martin’s beneficial interest in their home.

Mrs Martin challenged this in the High Court, and succeeded on 3 of the 6 grounds of her appeal.

  • The judge in the County Court had made errors in his assessments of the financial positions of the parties – he should have considered the fact that Ms Williams had an interest in another property; he had also overstated the position of Mrs Martin without good reason.
  • The judge had also incorrectly applied the provisions of the Inheritance Act 1975 by failing to apply the statutory test in determining what reasonable financial provision for Ms Williams would be; by conducting a ‘needs based’ assessment with respect Mrs Martin; and not considering whether Mr Martin’s limited estate was sufficient to satisfy the interests of both Mrs Martin and Ms Williams.
  • Taking this into consideration, while the High Court judge agreed that Ms Williams had not been given ‘reasonable financial provision’, he held that granting the beneficial interest in the property to Ms Williams was excessive. The correct position was to grant Ms Williams a life interest in the 50% share of the shared property – so she could continue to live there while she was alive, reverting back to Mrs Martin on her death.

Considerations of financial resources and the needs of ALL involved

The High Court found that the judge in the County Court had wrongly disregarded Ms Williams’ interest in a second property. He had done so because Ms Williams’ sister lived in the property and he felt that Ms Williams could not be expected to evict his sister to raise money. The High Court was also critical of the judge’s approach to Mrs Martin – he did not challenge her evidence, but then did not accept her evidence in looking at her financial needs and resources – as another beneficiary under the will. The case highlights the importance of the court balancing the competing interests that come in to play when a claim is brought under the Inheritance Act – something the Supreme Court touched on in the recent case of Ilott v Blue Cross and others.

The Importance of Updating your Will

If nothing else, this case highlights of the importance of making sure you keep your will up to date. There was no evidence that Mr Martin intended to leave Ms Williams out of his will, or have his share of their home in the event of his death. However, by failing to update his will when he and Mrs Martin separated, and again when he and Ms Williams purchased a property together, this was the result – along with the attendant stress and costs of legal action.