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A three year inheritance battle between a widow and her stepson has just come to an end after the judge dismissed the case in court. The story made the headlines recently for being one of the largest estate battles to have been fought under the Inheritance Act. The late husband and father, Mr Wooldridge, died in 2010 after an accident in Northern Ireland. He was a wealthy individual with a multi-million pound estate which was divided up in his Will between his wife, his son from a previous marriage and a child that he and Mrs Wooldridge had together.

For his wife he left the matrimonial home, which was mortgage free and worth approximately £4 million, plus other assets that totalled up to a further £1.5m. For his two children he left his shares in a construction company that he owned with his brother.

Inheritance Act – Reasonable Financial Provision?

Mrs Wooldridge brought a claim under the Inheritance Act that the Will did not make reasonable financial provision for her. As the wife of the deceased, reasonable financial provision is a higher standard than any other applicants are allowed and the Court will consider her age and the duration of the marriage, her contribution to the welfare of the family, and what she may receive if they had in fact divorced on the day he had died.

Mrs Wooldridge invited the Court to order that she should receive a further sum of £372k per annum in order to keep her in the lifestyle she and the late Mr Wooldridge was accustomed to and to fund holidays, cars, clothes and socialising.

The Court did not support Mrs Wooldridge’s claim and dismissed it.  It found that not only was there no financial evidence to support the assertion that her and Mr Wooldridge had a lifestyle that involved the level of expenditure she now alleged but that she also had assets of her own totalling £10.5m from a successful career and as a successful businesswoman aged 50 was capable of obtaining lucrative employment.

Principles of Bringing an Estate Claim

This was a particularly high profile case because of the large sums of money involved. Although most estates do not include such large amounts of money, the principles remain the same. In order to overcome the first hurdle and bring an application you must be an entitled person – which are clearly defined in the Inheritance Act.  Thereafter you must demonstrate to the Court why the estate of the deceased did not make reasonable financial provision for you. In a large number of cases it is usual for the applicant to have received nothing at all and this therefore may be easier to demonstrate.

However, not only does the Court consider the needs of the applicant who is bringing the claim, but it also considers other factors including, but not limited to:

  • Financial needs of any beneficiaries both now and in the future
  • Net value of the estate as a whole.

The Court therefore found that if it was to award Mrs Wooldridge any money then this would not only have a negative effect on the children and their interest in the company but further the net value of the estate which wouldn’t be big enough to support her claim. The Judge ruled that Mrs Wooldridge “has enough”.