Spouse/Civil Partner Claims Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975


Losing a loved one is painful, but the loss of a spouse or civil partner can be devastating on many levels, particularly after years of union, love and financial reliance.

In England and Wales, the legal concept of testamentary freedom prevails, which essentially provides that an individual can leave their estate to who they wish. This means that a spouse or civil partner can, in effect, pass the entirety of their estate to whoever they want. This is where inheritance disputes can arise.

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SpouseCivil Partner Claims Under the Inheritance Provision for Family and Dependants Act 1975 v2

What Protection is there for a Spouse or Civil Partner who Discovers they have been Excluded from their Spouse/Civil Partner’s Will?

Balanced against the right of testamentary freedom is the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This Act enables a spouse or civil partner to bring a claim against their loved one’s estate where a Will or an intestacy fails to make reasonable financial provision for them.

The Act affords greater financial protection to this category of applicant over every other as they are the only category who do not need to demonstrate that they have a maintenance need. They do, however, need to show what might be appropriate financial provision for them in the context of the marriage, whether that be a long or short marriage.

In short, what would their life look like had the parties’ relationship ended in divorce rather than death? This is commonly known by lawyers as the “divorce cross-check”, with the starting point usually being a 50/50 split between the applicant and the estate.

The Act allows the court to decide on appropriate financial provisions for all applicants. A spouse or civil partner should not expect to receive the entire estate and should not expect to better their position from the standard enjoyed within the marriage. They should also not expect their own assets and finances (especially if kept separate during the marriage) to be ignored.

Whilst the divorce cross-check is often cited as being neither a “ceiling nor a floor” (meaning this could lead to an award at more or less than the starting point of 50/50), the level of judicial discretion is high, meaning that different approaches and considerations can be taken from Judge to Judge.

Separated and/or estranged spouses and civil partners whose divorce has not been finalised by a decree absolute are also eligible to bring a claim under the Act. Importantly, they would be treated, for the purpose of the Act, as eligible within the same category and so entitled to the higher provision of a spouse/civil partner.

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What Protection is there for a Spouse or Civil Partner who Discovers they have been Excluded from their SpouseCivil Partners Will

What can a Spouse/Civil Partner Expect?

When deciding claims brought by spouses and civil partners, the Judge will consider factors including the applicant’s present and future financial need, the size and nature of the estate as well as:

  • The age of the applicant;
  • The duration of the marriage; and
  • The contribution made by the applicant to the welfare of the Deceased’s family, including any contribution made by looking after the home or caring for the family.

Current considerations in claims brought by spouses or civil partners often include whether granting the spouse or civil partner a right to occupy the Deceased’s property for life is aligned with making “reasonable financial provision” rather than granting the property outright and what constitutes “matrimonial property” for the purposes of making provision.

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What can a SpouseCivil Partner Expect

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We have considerable experience in both bringing and defending claims for surviving spouses and civil partners, including estranged applicants. Contact our Contentious Probate team for an initial consultation if you would like help with making or defending a claim.

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