In the latest of a string of similar rulings since the outcome of the Illot v Blue Cross case, the High Court has granted reasonable provision to a cohabitee who was left out of her late partner’s Will.
Wynford Hodge had left the entirety of his £1.5m estate to friends and tenants, excluding his partner of 42 years, Joan Thompson, in the process.
Thompson brought the claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Given the length of the relationship between the couple and the financial dependence of Thompson on Hodge, the Court decided that reasonable provision for her maintenance should be granted from the estate. This included a property intended for use in the couple’s retirement and funds for its renovation. She was granted a further £160,000, bringing the total value of the award to more than £400,000.
Currently, a cohabitee has no statutory rights to the estate of their partner. The judgment is likely to fuel the on-going debate concerning this area of inheritance law and encourage further claims for financial provision reflecting the relationships involved. In the absence of an absolute rule on this matter, and it being recognised that each case is decided on its facts, a key issue is defining reasonable provision and establishing whether it should take the form of a capital sum or simply a lifetime interest in property. Moreover, rulings of this kind raise the wider question of the extent to which testamentary freedom should be upheld.
The growing amount of case law on this issue may help to provide an increasingly clear basis for judgements in the future.