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Grown-up children should "look after themselves"

View profile for Lisa Cox
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The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 hit the headlines again last week as Judge David Halpern QC in his judgement told Danielle Ames to “get a job” and ordered her to pay £35,000 in legal costs to her stepmother. 

Danielle Ames asked the court to overturn her late father’s will after being left nothing of his £1 million estate. Her stepmother defended the claim for financial provision, believing her late husband deliberately excluded Danielle from his will, as he deemed grown-up children should “look after themselves”. In his judgement Judge Halpern was critical of Ames for unreliable evidence and stated she was not above inventing or embellishing facts regarding the financial assistance provided by her father, outlining several inconsistences. He did not accept that her father funded her lifestyle in the way she asserted and described her lack of employment as a “lifestyle choice”. 

The judgement in isolation appears justified. However, having read of Danielle’s care for her late grandmother and disappointment that her parents’ business has passed outside of the family, it is difficult to see the decision as black and white. 

The case highlights that the burden of proof rests with the claimant to prove that the will leaves them with unreasonable financial provision. This test is objective and it is difficult to predict how the court may view each case. Claimants often feel their parent has a moral obligation to leave them adequate provision upon their passing, but that feeling alone cannot be the basis of a claim.  

When first writing about the claim I hoped the judgement would provide clarity to the murky waters of such adult child claims. On reflection, the emotional and moral aspects of these cases make it difficult to anticipate that they will ever be smooth sailing which is why expert advice from lawyers in our specialist inheritance disputes team, who have a wealth of experience of dealing with the issues involved, is essential for those bringing or defending such actions.