letter of wishes and reasonable financial provision

Thompson v Raggett: Letter of Wishes and Reasonable Financial Provision

The recent case of Thompson v Raggett & Ors [2018] EWHC 688 (Ch), concerned an Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 will dispute, and the use of letters of wishes. An elderly lady applied for reasonable financial provision when her partner and cohabitee of 42 years failed to leave any provision for her in his will when he died, despite the fact that he had explained his reasons in a letter of wishes with the will.

The Facts of Thompson v Raggett

Joan Thompson and Wynford Hodge were partners, who had cohabited for over 40 years. When Mr Hodge passed away, he left a letter of wishes explaining his reasoning for leaving nothing in his estate to Ms Thompson. He explained that he did not wish his estate to end up with Ms Thompson’s children from a previous marriage, whom he felt had taken advantage of him in the past. He believed that Ms Thompson had her own savings and was financially comfortable. Mr Hodge’s estate was worth £1.5 million. In fact, Ms Thompson only had modest savings of £2,500 and was living on state benefit and disability living allowance.

Before his death he had purchased a cottage, with the intention of living there with Ms Thompson. As reasonable financial provision, the claimant sought legal title of the cottage, as well as provision for the upkeep of the property. Ms Thompson’s son and his wife had agreed to live in the cottage and look after her.

Reasonable Financial Provision

As a cohabitee who was financially dependent on the deceased up until his death, Ms Thompson fell under s1(1)(ba) and 1(B) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975: an unmarried partner cohabiting for two years up until the death of the testator, or s1(1)(e): any other financial dependant. The relevant definition of reasonable financial provision for this will dispute was therefore “such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the applicant to receive for his maintenance.” Judge Jarman QC decided that Mr Hodge’s belief that Ms Thompson had sufficient savings was an insufficient motive to justify the lack of financial provision for her in the will.

The court accepted that the reasonable financial provision should include “provision for her accommodation and care needs”. Judge Jarman QC went on to consider all of the circumstances of the case, with particular emphasis on the length of time the partners cohabited, and the fact that Ms Thompson had contributed to taking care of the deceased’s mother, as well as the deceased when he became unwell. Ms Thompson went to live in a home after her partner passed away, and she made it clear to the court that she did not wish to live in the home, but in the cottage, on the same farm where the couple had lived for 42 years.

The judge accepted that it would be unreasonable to provide accommodation off the farm, as Ms Thompson had lived there for so long and it was her desire to live there indefinitely. The judge ordered the transfer of the cottage to the claimant for her to live in with her son and her daughter-in-law. Ms Thompson was also awarded £28,844 for renovations of the cottage, and a further £160,000 for on-going financial provision.

The risk inherent in a letter of wishes

At the end of the judgement, the judge stated,

Whilst the wishes of Mr Hodge that Mrs Thompson’s family should not benefit from any provision for her should be given appropriate weight, those wishes should not hinder the reasonable provision for her maintenance. That is the mistake that he made in his letters of wishes which led to no provision at all being made.”

Simply leaving a letter of wishes that explains one’s reasoning will not justify leaving financial dependants out of a will. If the will does not leave reasonable financial provision for someone who falls within the categories of financial dependants in the Inheritance Act, it is possible to make a successful Inheritance Act claim regardless of the motivations of the testator. In an Inheritance Act will dispute, the judge will take into consideration all of the circumstances of the case, and provision can be awarded even if it is contrary to a letter of wishes.

If you are considering a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance Act – because you feel you should have been left more than you received under a will, Will Claim Solicitors can help. We are experts in will dispute litigation and can usually act on a ‘no win no fee’ basis. Contact us today or complete our free claim assessment form and we will get in touch.