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"I wish you were dead"…but I'm entitled to your money: estranged daughter makes claim against deceased's mother's estate (Wright v Waters, 2014 EWHC 3614 Ch)
04 December 2014

"I wish you were dead"…but I'm entitled to your money: estranged daughter makes claim against deceased's mother's estate (Wright v Waters, 2014 EWHC 3614 Ch)

The claimant, Patricia Wright, was the daughter of the deceased, Mary Waters. In her Will, which she made in January 2009, Mary did not leave anything to Patricia; she chose to leave the bulk of her small estate to her son David Waters. David was also appointed executor of his Mother's estate.

When Mary died, Patricia made two claims against her Mother's estate.  

The first claim was a proprietary estoppel claim which failed on evidence: Patricia claimed that her parents, who were shopkeepers, had promised her an inheritance on the basis that she had worked unpaid in their shops. The Judge ruled that there was no clear evidence that Patricia's parents had promised that she would receive an inheritance if she worked unpaid in their shops.

The second claim was a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the "1975 Act"). The 1975 Act provides the means for disappointed family members or dependants to make a claim for "reasonable financial provision" from the deceased's estate. For a child of the deceased, "reasonable financial provision" means financial provision for their maintenance. The 1975 Act directs the court to consider a wide range of factors when considering whether "reasonable financial provision" was made and to balance these factors against each other.

Patricia was an adult claimant with a child and grandchildren of her own. An adult claimant does not need to show that there were special circumstances or a moral obligation in order for a claim to succeed. However, the courts do not look favourably on 'independent' adult claimants (i.e. where an adult child is in employment with an earning capacity for the foreseeable future). Patricia was not financially independent. She also provided evidence that she has serious medical conditions (she suffered a heart attack in 2007 and is wheel chair bound; she suffers from heart disease, angina, diabetes, osteoarthritis, depression, vertigo and cervical spondylosis). Her medical conditions and financial situation should have counted in Patricia's favour but they did not…

The Judge was entitled to consider Patricia's conduct toward her Mother. Specifically, the 1975 Act directs a Judge to consider "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." In 2001, Patricia sent a letter to her Mother stating that she did not wish to communicate with her and wishing that her Mother were dead. The Judge described the letter as "extreme". Patricia did not see her Mother again and did not attempt to repair their relationship or retract the letter.

The Judge concluded that Patricia's behaviour outweighed all other factors in her favour: her ill health, her financial situation and the fact that no other beneficiary had demonstrated a need for Mary Water's money carried no weight. Patricia's 1975 Act claim failed: the Judge concluded that it was objectively reasonable for Mary to exclude Patricia from her Will.

Solicitors should not underestimate the importance of assessing their client's behaviour towards the deceased. "Extreme" behaviour, for example, wishing someone dead, could have a devastating effect on any claim that would otherwise be expected to succeed. If a claim were to succeed, this would not necessarily mean that the claimant had behaved well: the court is also entitled to reduce the amount of financial provision if it is not fully satisfied with a claimant's behaviour.