If you already have a Will but have not updated it following a change in circumstances, then the outcome of Martin v Williams may prompt you into action. It also threw light on the rights of cohabitees to make claims for financial provision from the estate of a deceased partner.
Under the provisions of the Inheritance Act 1975, cohabitees must prove that they were living as husband and wife (or as civil partners for same-sex couples) for a least two years prior to their death to make a claim. However, claims made by cohabitees are restricted to covering maintenance, i.e. living costs.
In the aforementioned case, Mr Martin made a Will 28 years prior to his death in 2014. In it, he left his residuary estate to his wife from whom he later separated. He then lived with his new partner, Mrs Williams from 2009 and they owned equal shares of their property as tenants in common. Mrs Williams was also the joint owner of another property with her sister, which they had inherited from their father and was occupied by her sister.
Mr Martin never updated his original Will and, subsequently, Mrs Martin inherited his residuary estate which included Mr Martin’s 50% share of the property he shared with Mrs Williams.
Under the terms of the Act, Mrs Williams then brought a claim for reasonable provision from Mr Martin’s estate. As she had been cohabiting with Mr Martin for more than two years, the court ruled in her favour and awarded her the other 50% share of their joint property. The judge disregarded Mrs Williams share of the inherited property due to her sister’s occupancy and limited financial means. Mrs Martin then appealed against this judgement.
The appeal judge upheld Mrs Williams’ claim but ruled that her 50% share of the inherited property should be taken into account because it was a material asset, and Mrs Williams admitted to the court that her sister was in a position to downsize.
On this basis, Mrs Williams was awarded a life interest in Mr Martin’s 50% share of their property whilst the reversionary interest was awarded to Mrs Martin.
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