On 14 February 2023 Mr Justice Peel handed down the judgment in Kaur v Singh in which Mrs Kaur, the widow of Karnail Singh, who had been married to the Deceased since 1955, was awarded a 50% share of his estate.
Mr Singh had made a will in 2005 in which he left his estate equally between the two sons of the couple’s seven children, so that it passed solely down the male line. Mrs Kaur and her three surviving daughters were excluded from any provision from the estate.
Mrs Kaur issued a claim in the Family Division of the High Court under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the ‘Act’). As a spouse, she was able to pursue a claim under section 1(1)(a) of the Act.
The questions to the court were;
- Does the will fail to make reasonable financial provision for Mrs Kaur?
- If so, what should the financial provision be?
The court, in deciding the answer to these two questions, must have regard to the factors set out in section 3 of the Act which include
- the financial resources and financial needs which the applicant has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
- the financial resources and financial needs which any other applicant for an order under section 2 of this Act has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
- the financial resources and financial needs which any beneficiary of the estate of the deceased has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
- any obligations and responsibilities which the deceased had towards any applicant for an order under the said section 2 or towards any beneficiary of the estate of the deceased;
- the size and nature of the net estate of the deceased;
- any physical or mental disability of any applicant for an order under the said section 2 or any beneficiary of the estate of the deceased;
- 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.
Where a claim is pursued by the deceased’s spouse, further consideration is given to their age and the duration of the marriage, as well as the contribution they made to the welfare of the family.
Following cases such as Illott v Mitson there is now much greater awareness of the Act and its provisions made for those who are excluded from a will. Some testators seek to exclude those from their will who they are estranged from or if their relationship is strained. While the Act could be seen as limiting testamentary freedom, in cases such as this, the court’s decision is often made with regard to the ‘divorce cross check’ which recognises that in circumstances where a spouse is eligible to bring a claim, they should not receive less upon the death of their spouse than they would if the marriage had instead ended due to a divorce.
It is not known whether the Deceased sought advice in relation to any possible claims against his estate when he gave instructions for the preparation for his will. However, if he had received and followed proper advice the family could have avoided the battle through the courts and the associated stress, upset and expense that it will have caused.
Mrs Kaur estimated that the estate was worth £1.99 m gross, but one of her sons estimated the value to be £1.2m. At the time of the hearing Mrs Kaur, age 83, was in receipt of state benefits of under £12,000 per year and suffering from ill health such that she was registered disabled.
Mr Justice Peel acknowledged that Mrs Kaur had “played a full role in the marriage, both as a wife and working in the family business and did not receive a salary. She was financially dependent upon the Deceased who met all the family outgoings. She was, I am satisfied, a wife who made a full and equal contribution to the marriage”
The entirety of the Deceased’s wealth was built up during the couple’s 66 year marriage, yet the Deceased sought to exclude his wife from sufficient financial provision on his death. Mr Justice Peel noted that “after a marriage of 66 years to which she made a full and equal contribution, and during which all the assets accrued, she is left with next to nothing”.
Mr Justice Peel added that “it seems to me that this is the clearest possible case entitling me to conclude that reasonable provision has not been made for the claimant” and that “it is hard to see how any other conclusion can be reached”.
One of Mrs Kaur’s sons, who was a defendant, due to being one of the beneficiaries of the Deceased’s estate, did not object to the proceedings and was willing to make provision for his mother from his father’s estate. The other Defendant refused to accept service of the claim documents and was seen immediately putting the documents in a wheelie bin following delivery and refused to engage in the proceedings.
His conduct led to the case proceeding to a court hearing, and the parties’ incurring costs, which were awarded to Mrs Kaur from the estate.
What does this mean for future cases?
Whilst cases like this are thankfully rare, this judgement may pave the way for future cases where a reasonable provision for someone is not made, and with no clear reason.
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