Kaur v Singh: An inheritance act claim by a spouse excluded from benefitting from her husband’s estate

The case of Kaur v Singh ([2023] EWHC 304 (Fam)) is an example of a court considering the level of provision that a claimant would have received had she and her late husband divorced. The claim was made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the Inheritance Act) by a claimant wife for reasonable financial provision from her late husband's estate.

The claimant had been married to the deceased for 66 years at the time of his death. Unusually, he had decided to exclude his wife from benefiting from his estate and made a will leaving his assets to his sons. The court determined the claim as an urgent matter, just 12 weeks after it was issued, and found that reasonable financial provision had not been made for the claimant.

The facts

The claimant and the deceased married in 1955. They went on to have seven children, six of whom (two sons and four daughters) survived the deceased. The claimant played an active role in the marriage, both through her contribution to the family, and in her work for the family clothing business (in which she held no stake and drew no salary). Mr Justice Peel confirmed that the claimant had "made a full and equal contribution to the marriage in accordance with the seminal family law case of White v White [2000] UKHL 54".

At the time of the hearing, the claimant had modest assets, and her only income consisted of state benefits of £12,000 per year. She also suffered from health issues. The entirety of the family's wealth had been built during the marriage, and the claimant estimated the value of the gross estate at almost £2m.

The law

Mr Justice Peel considered the factors relevant to the claim under Section 3 of the Inheritance Act and in particular the "deemed divorce test" set out under Section 3(2). This provides that the court shall "have regard to the provision which the applicant might reasonably have expected to receive if on the day on which the deceased died the marriage, instead of being terminated by death, had been terminated by a divorce order".

The outcome

Mr Justice Peel had little difficulty in finding that reasonable financial provision had not been made for the claimant, stating that; "this is the clearest possible case entitling me to conclude that reasonable provision has not been made for C. It is hard to see how any other conclusion can be reached".

Having considered firstly whether reasonable financial provision had been made, Mr Justice Peel then had to consider what level of award would provide the claimant with reasonable financial provision. He found that the divorce cross check pointed towards an award of 50% of the gross estate and noted that the claimant said that such a division would meet her needs (she intends to purchase a modest property near to one of her daughters).

Our comment

A case of this nature would typically be resolved by agreement through correspondence or a mediation, rather than a trial. Here, one of the claimant's sons did not engage with the claimant, which necessitated the issue of court proceedings. It is notable that the award was limited to 50% of the gross estate and this emphasises the relevance of the deemed divorce test. The claimant was entitled to have her costs paid out of the estate, to be deducted before the 50:50 split. The fact that the deemed divorce test was applied so readily may also serve to support the assumption that claims made by spouses under the Inheritance Act may fare better in the Family Division (where this claim was issued), rather than the Chancery Division of the High Court.

How we can help

Please contact Caroline Cowley if you would like further information in relation to claims under the Inheritance Act.