In an important decision which helped to define the legal concept of dependency, the High Court ruled – in the context of a claim for reasonable provision under a will – that a person may be reliant on another’s financial support without being in any way short of money.
A man in his 90s had lived for 20 years with his younger partner in a village home that was owned by her alone. He was significantly better off than she was and, in the belief that she would outlive him, he had made a will, leaving her a substantial sum. He had never made any claim on her home and had no expectation that she would leave him anything.
In the event, she died before him, leaving everything, including the house, to her daughter and only child. The latter wished to sell the house to the highest bidder. However, the man was reluctant to move out and launched proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. That claim was upheld by a judge and he was granted an option to purchase the house for £385,000.
Believing that the property would be worth more than that on the open market, the daughter challenged the decision. On the basis that the man was richer than her mother, it was submitted that she did not maintain him financially, within the meaning of the Act, and that he could not be viewed as her dependant.
In ruling on the case, the Court noted that the man had lived in the village all his life and enjoyed a support network of neighbours. He was anxious to avoid moving so late in life and, despite his ample resources, might not be able to buy another home close to facilities in the centre of the community.
In dismissing the daughter’s appeal, the Court found that a person can potentially, albeit very rarely, be in need of financial provision for his maintenance without being in any way lacking in financial resources. In the particular case, the man’s money might not be able to secure him the accommodation he required. His partner had provided him with a roof over his head and that was a form of maintenance which entitled him to claim provision under the Act.