By Rachael Williams, Will, Trust and Estate Disputes solicitor at Irwin Mitchell
Permission to appeal has been rejected in the case of Miles & Anor v Shearer. The case was brought under the Inheritance Act 1975 by the two adult daughters of the late Tony Shearer, who died in 2017, and who were seeking sizeable sums for housing.
Mr Shearer was the former head of merchant bank Singer & Friedlander. His successful banking carer had enabled him to amass a considerable wealth, with the claimants saying his estate was worth an estimated £7 million.
The original claim was advanced by Mr Shearer’s two adult children, Juliet Miles and Lauretta Shearer, against his surviving wife, Pamela Shearer. Shortly before Mr Shearer’s death, he amended his will to remove his daughters. His wife said this was because he was upset by his daughters, believing they were only interested in him for his money.
In reaching a decision in these cases, there are several factors considered by the court, though after doing so the judge concluded that neither of the claimants had shown a need for maintenance from their father’s estate and that Mr Shearer had no obligation towards them at the time of his death.
The appeal raised arguments that Mrs Shearer had lied to the Court by refusing to release details about her own will. The Claimants argued that their step-mother’s refusal to disclose her will suggested that she had amended this (against their father’s wishes) to exclude them. The judge rejected this suggestion and accepted Mrs Shearer’s evidence.
A will is a private document until someone has died and a grant issued in their estate. Notwithstanding this, it's not unusual for arguments to be made regarding the will of a surviving spouse during the course of will disputes. The court’s decision to uphold this principle could prove interesting in decisions about whether wills should be disclosed in future cases.
The case itself has also yet again focused attention on cases where adult children advance claims such as this, despite not being financially reliant on their deceased parent. The number of these cases has significantly increased since the landmark case of Illot v Mitson, in which a non-dependant adult child who had been estranged from her mother received around 10% of the estate that had initially been left to charity.
Litigation is uncertain, stressful and expensive. In defending any claim there is a risk, including recovering costs, even if successful. When met with this advice, many defendants take the view that paying a relatively small sum to the claimant now is preferable to many months of stress and uncertainty, after which they may still be out of pocket.
This case serves as yet another reminder that the Illot case was the exception and by no means the rule. It will be interesting to see if this case bears as a warning to other adult non-dependent children about advancing cases like this.