Contested wills – Cohabiting pensioner successfully challenges millionaire partner’s will after receiving nothing

Neil Acheson-Gray

Contested WillsIn a major case relating to contested wills, a judge at the High Court in Cardiff has ruled that the cohabiting partner of a deceased millionaire should be entitled to part of his estate.

Joan Thompson, a 79-year-old pensioner was awarded a significant share of the estate by Judge Jarman QC after bringing a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.

Thompson had lived with Wynford Hodge for 42 years until his death in 2017 at the age of 94.

Upon Mr Hodge’s death, she discovered that a letter was attached to Mr Hodge’s will in which he states that she should inherit nothing. The judgement in Thompson v Raggett quoted from the letter:

“In my Will I have specifically made no provision for my partner, Joan Thompson and her children, Gary, Lee, Dean and Sharon. I currently have no contact with Joan’s children. I have no issue with Gary, but I have concerns regarding Lee, Dean and Sharon and do not trust them. I feel that they have previously taken advantage of me and have already received/taken monies from me during my lifetime. I do not want Joan or her children to inherit from my estate.”

Mrs Thompson is now living in a care home and in receipt on modest benefits, however she told the court that she wishes to return to the deceased’s farm and caravan park in Pembrokeshire to be looked after by her son, Dean, and his family.

Mr Hodge’s entire £1.5 million estate had been left to tenants, Karla Evans and Agon Berisha who, whilst on apparently good terms with Mrs Thompson, shared Mr Hodge’s view of her children.

However, after hearing evidence about the relationships between the parties and Mrs Thompson’s health the judge ruled that she should be entitled to a property worth £225,000, £160,000 towards her future maintenance and care, and £28,845 towards the renovation of the property.

In his judgement, he said:

Whilst the wishes of Mr Hodge that Mrs Thompson’s family should not benefit from any provision for her should be given appropriate weight, those wishes should not hinder the reasonable provision for her maintenance. That is the mistake that he made in his letters of wishes which led to no provision at all being made.

While cohabitees do not have the same entitlement to a partner’s estate as a married or civil partnered individual would, Judge Jarman said:

Given the very long period of cohabitation, and given that it is Dean and his wife who will be providing the care for his mother at the cottage, in my judgment it is reasonable to provide for her maintenance accommodation in which Ms Evans and Mr Berisha have no interest. They will still be neighbours, but that is a different matter. Such an approach is likely to facilitate all concerned moving on from this litigation. Mrs Thompson will be able take decisions relating to her home, such as making structural alterations or raising money without the need to seek permission.

Case law tends to suggest that in providing for maintenance, a lifetime award should be made in matters relating to contested wills. However, the judge in this case opted to make an absolute award on the basis of tensions between Ms Evans and Mr Berisha on one hand and Mrs Thompson’s son, Dean, on the other, who she needed to act as her primary carer.

Neil Acheson-Gray, a Partner and specialist in contested wills at Carter Lemon Camerons LLP, said: “This case is significant for three reasons. The first is that a cohabitee has been awarded a share of the estate, despite having no automatic right to it. The second is that the judge has made an award to Mrs Thompson, despite Mr Hodge’s express wish that she should receive nothing. Thirdly, the award has been made to Mrs Thompson absolutely rather than as a life interest.

“However, the judge was very clear that this case was determined on its individual circumstances, and this is the key point to take away.

“In particular, the period of cohabitation involved was very long, there was an error in the deceased’s letter disinheriting Mrs Thompson and there were specific tensions between the family and the other beneficiaries that had to be accounted for in providing for her maintenance.”

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