Disinherited Daughter Loses Will Dispute
A daughter who was estranged from her mother for 9 years has lost her court battle for a share of her late mother’s estate. Huddersfield solicitors Ridley & Hall acted for Pat Wright, the 65 year old daughter of Mary Waters, who failed in her attempt to overturn her late mother’s Will which excluded her entirely. Mrs Wright of Pateley Bridge, sought to argue that it was unreasonable that her mother’s £150,000 estate should pass to her wealthy brother on the basis that she was on welfare benefits and disabled.
Her claim, which was heard at the High Court in Leeds on 18th and 19th October was brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 which allows disappointed beneficiaries to bring a claim if a will or intestacy fails to make “reasonable financial provision” for them.
Mrs Wright also argued that she had worked unpaid in her parents’ sweetshops as a young woman on the basis that she was “working for her inheritance”.
The case is similar in some respects to the case of Ilott v Mitson in 2011, when a Mrs Ilott successfully sued her late mother’s estate despite an estrangement lasting some 15 years. She won £50,000 on the basis that the estate was large (£500,000), that the money would otherwise all go to charities and that she was on benefits and had 5 children to support. That case does not set a precedent that estranged adult children can always bring a claim – as the outcome of the Wright case confirms.
Under the Inheritance Act of 1975 the court has to take into account a number of factors in deciding whether or to make an order for financial provision from a deceased’s estate. One of these factors is “any other matter, including the conduct of the applicant or any other person which in the circumstances of the case the court may consider relevant”. Despite Mrs Wright having significant financial needs relating to her poor health His Honour Judge Behrens said:
“My value judgement is that Mrs Wright’s conduct outweighs all of the factors in her favour.”
The conduct concerned firstly the sum of £10,000 allegedly lent to Mrs Wright by her mother in 1998. She maintained that this money was a gift which she invested and told the court that she had no need of a loan at the time. The judge was persuaded that evidence, in the form of notes made by Mary Waters in 2001 and in a letter of wishes with her Will, made it clear that she believed for a long period of time that the £10,000 was a loan that was never repaid.
The second issue was in relation to a letter which was sent by Mrs Wright to her mother in 2001, following a fallout about a family wedding, in which she disowned her and said that she wanted nothing further to do with her:
“Further to my telephone call this morning I wish to formally advise you that I do not wish to have any communication with you at all in the future.
As far as I am concerned I no longer have a mother, you are not fit to call yourself that.
You could not care less that [Ken] is so seriously ill and could die at any moment and even if he doesn’t that the likelihood is he will be so severely disabled he may never come home.
All you care about is your son and his family. Well as far as I am concerned you are welcome to each other – you won’t have anyone else.
You were right when you said it should have been you in stead of my father – I wish it had been.”
The judge acknowledged that the letter was sent at a time of great distress for Mrs Wright, when her husband was very unwell in hospital; in fact days before his death. Nevertheless he found that she had the opportunity to make amends in the 9 years that followed, and had chosen not to do so.
Mrs Wright’s evidence was that her mother was cold and unloving towards her throughout her life but that up until their estrangement she had made every possible effort to be loving and supportive towards her mother. She was able to produce photographic evidence of parties and gatherings that had been arranged by her for her mother on a number of occasions prior to 2001.
Sarah Young, head of Ridley & Hall’s Contentious Probate team, represented Mrs Wright throughout the court case and comments:-
“This is a case which is very fact specific. For the judge to find that a claimant’s behaviour outweighs all the other factors that a court should take into account in an Inheritance Act case is exceptional. However unfortunately the judge clearly did not believe my client’s evidence.”
She went on to say:
“Litigation is always uncertain and the case should now act as a warning for anyone thinking about bringing a claim under the Inheritance Act to carefully consider the possible impact of their behaviour on the claim.”
Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley & Hall solicitors. She specialises in Will disputes and has a record of bringing the most complex cases to a successful conclusion.
For further information please contact Sarah on 01484 538421 or mobile 07860 165850.