The recent case of Wooldridge v Wooldridge (December 2015) has highlighted the issue of what constitutes “reasonable financial provision” when bringing a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependent) Act 1975 (“1975 Act”).
Construction Tycoon, Ian Wooldridge (“the Deceased”) passed away in October 2010 following a helicopter crash. He had executed a homemade Will which detailed how his £10 million fortune was to be split.
The Deceased’s Will left the family home to his wife, Mrs Thandi Wooldridge, worth around £4.25 million, together with assets worth about £1.6 million. The remainder of the Estate was left to his two sons, Charlie Wooldridge (from a previous relationship) and Rhett Wooldridge.
Mrs Wooldridge, who is worth around £10 million in her own right, brought a claim under the 1975 Act on the basis that she had not been adequately provided for under the Deceased’s Will. She argued that the assets she received were not worth as much as she had hoped, particularly with just under £1 million of the assets been utilised in settling past debts.
In addition, Mrs Wooldridge argued that she had given up her own high-flying career in marketing to fully support her family and told the Court that the Deceased “never wanted the house to be a burden to me”.
The Claim was for a further £372,000 a year from the Estate to cover personal expenditure, maintaining the 140 acre Surrey Estate, maintenance for a Bentley and Range Rover, together with costs for regular long haul holidays. All of these items being what she were accustomed to during the Deceased’s lifetime. The argument is that, without additional provision, Mrs Wooldridge won’t be able to keep the property and that this wasn’t the Deceased’s intentions.
Mrs Wooldridge’s Step-Son argued that the majority of the remaining Estate is tied up in family businesses and any such award to Mrs Wooldridge risked undermining a commercial “dynasty” the Deceased had created for his two sons.
Judge Walden-Smith concluded that Mrs Wooldridge had lived a lavish lifestyle during the Deceased’s lifetime, beyond that of most people. However, she found that the Will had made reasonable provisions for Mrs Wooldridge, together with the fact that the Estate did not have sufficient liquid assets to satisfy her claim. Accordingly, the family business would suffer adversely, affecting the Deceased’s two sons’ inheritance.
The Courts generally take the view that the issue of “reasonable financial provision” is to be decided on a case by case basis, using the facts and circumstances of each individual case. This is obviously an exceptional case due to the extravagant and extremely wealthy lifestyle Mrs Wooldridge was accustomed to, but shows that all factors are considered by the Court, including the situation and potential effect on other beneficiaries, when making a decision.