A daughter cut out of her father’s £1 million Will because he believed grown-up children should “look after themselves” has been refused a slice of his fortune by a judge. For Danielle Ames, unemployment was “a lifestyle choice” and she was fit and able to work, said Judge David Halpern QC.
Ms. Ames went to court arguing that she was dependent on her father and deserved a payout of about £300,000 as 'reasonable provision' from his estate, claiming that he had promised her 'it will be all yours one day', but was shocked when he wrote her out of his Will. Mr. Ames died in 2013 and left everything he had to Ms. Ames’ step-mother, Elaine Ames.
But Judge Halpern said Danielle had 'exaggerated' the strength of her relationship with her father and had no moral claim on his money, whereas Mr. Ames's widow, with whom he had lived for over 30 years, needed every penny of his estate to lead a comfortable retirement. The Judge commented that Mrs. Ames Elaine was not living the high life and she needed the whole of her husband's estate 'to meet her reasonable needs'.
The estate was valued at just over £1 million for probate, including the £650,000 family home in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire – where Mrs. Ames’s still lives.
It has long been a characteristic of English law that, provided a person has the necessary mental capacity and complies with the formalities relating to the making of a valid Will, that an individual may make such provision for the disposal of their entire estate as they choose.
However, following a death, relatives, dependants and others can challenge someone's Will by going to court and claiming 'reasonable financial provision' from the estate. Equally, if someone dies 'intestate' (i.e. they don't have a will) or beneficiaries are not happy about their inheritance (or lack of), they may be able to make a claim under intestacy rules.
The aim of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 is to make further financial provision for those who:
have not inherited as a result of intestacy (where there is no Will);
have been left out of a Will entirely; or
have not been left as much as they need.
In a case where reasonable financial provision has not been made, the Inheritance Act enables the court to vary the distribution of the deceased’s estate for certain family members and dependants.
With the exception of a surviving spouse or civil partner (who is entitled to more), anyone else claiming under the Inheritance Act 1975 is entitled to such reasonable financial provision as is necessary for their maintenance, insofar as the estate can provide it.
The Ames case starkly illustrates that the burden of proof to establish that reasonable financial provision has not been made is on the claimant and the test is objective. It is not a question whether it might have been reasonable for the deceased to assist the claimant but whether, in all the circumstances, looked at objectively, it is unreasonable not to do so.
It must be shown not that the deceased acted unreasonably but that the provisions of the Will or lack of a Will produces an unreasonable result in that it does not make any reasonable financial provision for the claimant.
Moral obligations are often raised by claimants. The deceased's moral obligation may be a relevant factor but it is not enough on which to base a claim.