Disappointed Beneficiaries – The importance of seeking early advice
In January the case of Sargeant v Sargeant decided that after 10 years since Probate was granted for her husband, the Claimant (Mrs Mary Sargeant) did not have permission to bring a claim against her husband’s estate.
The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, commonly referred to as the 1975 Act, allows for disappointed relatives to apply for some provision from the deceased’s estate, especially in circumstances where they were dependent on the deceased. In this case, the wife of the deceased found herself in a situation where she did not have enough money to maintain her lifestyle. Although the Judge recognised that the Claimant may have had a case, the claim was issued late and so she needed permission from the court for the claim to be heard.
According to section 4 of the 1975 Act, a claim must be issued within six months of probate being granted. Therefore, a preliminary hearing was heard, based upon written evidence only, to decide whether the claim itself could be heard.
The Judge decided that Mrs Sargeant had been given enough opportunity to make a claim, and had been told numerous times that she could seek legal advice independent from the solicitor in charge of the administration of the estate. He also recognised that there was not enough reason to delay the issuing of the claim simply because the deceased had said that the claimant would be a ‘wealthy woman’ once he died. Mrs Sargeant knew of her financial issues and still continued to follow the instructions set out by the Will.
This case highlights the urgency of seeking independent legal advice as soon as a difficulty has arisen. Six months is a short period of time for a claim to be issued within and so it is vital to seek advice as to whether there is a claim.
From this case, it appears that it does not matter how strong your claim may be, risking a delay in seeking legal advice means you may risk your chances of receiving anything from the deceased’s estate.