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Failure To Plan Ahead Leads To Court Battle

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Marital breakdowns are usually stressful and often confrontational and when the time comes to deal with the estate of a person with a second family, the possibility of dispute can often arise again. In just such an instance, the failure of a man with a second family to create a new Will led to litigation between his wife – from whom he was separated – and his partner of many years.


He never updated his Will when he and his wife split up and they never divorced, although he lived with another woman from then on. His Will, made in 1986, provided that his residuary estate would pass to his wife.


The problem was that in 2014 he had bought a house jointly with his new partner, which they owned in equal shares. The man's share in the house had been financed with the help of a mortgage. Because he had not changed his Will, his share of the value of the house (net of his mortgage) belonged to his wife.


The almost inevitable result was a legal dispute. His wife wanted her share of the house and his partner brought a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 on the basis that she had been 'maintained' by the man and that adequate provision had not been made for her in his Will.


The position was complicated because the man's partner had an interest in another property, but to benefit from it she would have had to evict her sister.


The issue took two court hearings – one in the County Court and an appeal to the High Court – to resolve. The resolution was that the man's partner was awarded a 'life interest' in his share in the property. This means that the man's wife will be entitled to share the proceeds of sale of the property but not able to force its sale – although the judge's recommendation was that a sale would be the best way forward.


People often take action that solves a current problem and forget to consider its longer-term effects. In this case, the man's failure to consider the implications of not changing his Will meant that his partner and his wife ended up in an expensive legal fight, the result of which is probably not to the full satisfaction of either.

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