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Jamie Randall discusses the recent judgment handed down in Wellesley v Wellesley & Ors [2019] EWHC 11 (Ch)

Deputy Master Linwood has today (11 January 2019) handed down his judgment in Wellesley v Wellesley & Ors [2019] EWHC 11 (Ch), concerning a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Similar to Ilott v Mitson [2017] UKSC 17, this case was about an adult child who had lived independently of the deceased. The Claimant was the eldest daughter of Garret Wellesley, 7th Earl of Cowley. She had been estranged from her father for some 30 years prior to his death.

The Claimant had been left a pecuniary legacy free of IHT of £20,000. The Deputy Master dismissed her claim that reasonable financial provision should have been in the hundreds of thousands. Central to his decision were his conclusions that (1) the Claimant could support herself financially and (2) she was responsible for the estrangement from her father.

The Deputy Master concluded that she was able to live within her means, even though her only income was in the form of benefits and insubstantial. He held that her claim that she was unable to work because of her ADHD was unsupported by the medical evidence relied on. The Deputy Master disregarded any sums claimed relating to the Claimant’s disabled son, concluding that there was no evidence that she had any financial responsibility for him. He also disallowed the costs of artist’s studio space, since he agreed with the submission that this would not enable her to improve her financial position. He therefore held that she could support herself financially as her income, albeit small, exceeded her outgoings.

The Deputy Master considered in depth the evidence of the Claimant and the Defendants relating to the estrangement between Tara and her father. Having reviewed the evidence, he concluded that the “the estrangement was due to Tara’s conduct alone”. This explains why, in his conclusion, the Deputy Master states that the extremely long estrangement outweighed all the other factors in s.3(1). This contrasts with the decision in Ilott that the award would be limited, but not extinguished, because of a similarly long estrangement.

The Claimant had also raised two public policy arguments, which the Deputy Master dismissed. First, she claimed that the Human Rights Act 1998 was engaged and that her human rights had been breached by the actions of the Defendants. The Deputy Master had no hesitation in dismissing this argument. Secondly, she claimed that there should be a public policy of private means replacing state benefits. Again, the Deputy Master had no hesitation in dismissing this argument.

The conclusions of the Deputy Master on financial needs and estrangement potentially act as a warning. The court will be willing to take a tough stance and dismiss the claim of an impecunious adult child if his or her needs are ill-defined or if the factual evidence points towards the conclusion that the provision was reasonable. In these circumstances a claim is unlikely to be saved by arguments that human rights or public policy considerations outweigh the factors which the court is required to take into account under the Act.

Constance McDonnell acted for the 1st-6th Defendants.

Author, Jamie Randall