On the 4 August 2016, The Times ran the following headline:
“Father’s work ethic at centre of will dispute”
The newspaper was reporting details of an Inheritance Act claim being made by Danielle Ames, aged 41 for a share of her father’s £1 million estate. Her father, Michael Ames, ran a successful double glazing business, Danielle was his only daughter. When Michael died in 2013 he left a Will giving his entire estate to his wife, Elaine Ames, Danielle’s stepmother.
Danielle’s claim under the Inheritance Act was for a £300,000 share of the estate. She said that her father had promised her that “one day all this will be yours”. She claims that she idolised her father, and he doted on her as his only child. However, her stepmother is insisting that her late husband deliberately cut his daughter out of any inheritance, because he had a powerful work ethic and believed adult children should be self-sufficient. Danielle is an unemployed mother of two children.
To decide whether it is right to overturn Michael’s wishes and award Danielle a share in the estate, the court will conduct a balancing exercise after considering the evidence that supports each party’s claim.
Each party will be required to provide evidence of their financial circumstances. The court will be interested in their income and savings, and they will be required to disclose full details of all bank accounts, building society accounts, savings accounts, investments, shares, and income. The court will also require details of outgoings and expenses, including rent or mortgage payments, average food shopping bill, average spend on clothes, hairdressers and beauty products, household utility payments, mobile phone bills, petrol, and taxes. The court will require details of each party’s earnings and career prospects, their future earning potential.
In the featured case, we do not know what savings or investments either party has, but there is an indication that there may be an inequality in relation to earning potential.
The stepmother is in her sixties, we don’t know if she is working but she will be unlikely to continue to work for many more years. Does she have a pension or other means of income after she reaches retirement age? On the face of it, the daughter has many more potential years of earning ahead, although on the facts she is not currently working. She will need to explain why she isn’t working, giving full details of any attempts to find employment and reasons why she cannot work – for example a disability.
The daughter has two children, and we presume she is responsible for them and they require support. Perhaps that is why she is not working. The newspaper didn’t reveal whether Danielle is a single parent, but if so she may be unable to work because she is unable to afford childcare.
The court will look at the estate itself. What assets are there available, is the main asset a property? Is it the property that the stepmother is living in? Is it too large for her needs or is it tied up with the business? Is it possible to release any cash to give the daughter a share?
Last, but not least, the court will consider any other information it considers relevant. Usually the court will be interested if there is any evidence of the conduct of either party or the deceased that may reveal a reason for the Will being drafted in the terms that it was. Had the father made the Will when daughter’s circumstances were different, perhaps she left a well paid career to focus on her children, and father had not got around to updating his Will.
Every case will be different and every case will be determined on its particular facts. The court will try to conduct a balancing exercise. If you would like more information please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org