Probate and Will, Trust & Estate Disputes

Publish date

27 April 2020

Claimants should carefully consider strength of 1975 Act claims

In the recent case of Shapton v Seviour, Carly Shapton, a 32 year old woman who attempted to bring a claim against her late father’s estate, has lost. Maria Seviour, Carly’s 56 year old stepmother who is terminally-ill with a motor neurone disease, has also won the right to not leave anything to Carly in her own will when she dies, having written Carly and her brother Christopher out of it.

Colin Seviour died in 2016, having suffered from brain cancer for two years. He left all of his estate, worth £268,000, to his wife Mrs Seviour. Ms Shapton sought to bring a claim for £75,000 of the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, saying that she had had an “incredibly close relationship” with her father. She tried to argue that it was “unreasonable” that she had received nothing from her father’s estate.

The family had fallen out over Ms Shapton’s wedding arrangements as she felt that the £2,500 that her father had contributed towards her wedding wasn’t enough. The rift was further deepened because Mrs Seviour felt that she was not involved in the funeral arrangements for her late husband, and was “entirely excluded from the eulogies”.

Judges considerations

When considering claims under the 1975 Act, a judge must take a number of factors into account. However, the Claimant’s needs, though only one of the factors, are at the very heart of any claim brought under the 1975 Act.  Ms Shapton argued that she had credit card debt, and paying this off was a financial need that she would have in the future. However, Judge Lloyd ruled that the credit card debt was of her own doing, and that she was “affluent” enough to be able to enjoy luxury skiing and holidays, where she and her family enjoyed the use of a speedboat.

Other factors that a judge must consider are the size of the estate of the deceased, and also the financial needs of any beneficiary of the estate. Mrs Seviour suffers from a “debilitating illness which will ultimately prove terminal”; Judge Lloyd ruled that the estate was a small one, and explained that 80 per cent of the estate was tied up in the house that Mrs Seviour lived in. Mrs Seviour’s financial needs were greater than any that Ms Shapton allegedly had because, Judge Lloyd ruled, Mrs Seviour “will need every penny to live out her remaining years in dignity and comfort”.

This case serves as a reminder to those attempting to bring a claim against the estate of a deceased parent, that the financial needs and resources of those who are already set to benefit will be carefully considered by the Court. While an adult child may have standing to bring a claim against their parent’s estate, it is not guaranteed that they will receive anything.

Ruling that Ms Shapton’s case was “absolutely hopeless”, Judge Lloyd ordered her to pay the £50,000 legal costs arising from the case. This figure is actually relatively low compared to other similar cases where a costs order is made against the unsuccessful party, because Mrs Seviour had solicitors largely acting for her on a pro-bono basis. While the test under the 1975 Act may be whether reasonable financial provision has been provided for an adult child claimant, Judge Lloyd in this case pointed out that “No provision may be reasonable provision”.

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