A report in the Guardian newspaper on 17 February 2016 is a reminder of the dangers of not making a will. Joy Williams lived with Norman Martin for 18 years, but he remained married to his wife. They owned their three-bedroom home in Dorchester, Dorset, as tenants in common. As a result on his death in 2012 his half share of the house (worth about £320,000) passed to his wife rather than Ms Williams even though they had been separated for nearly 20 years.
Ms Williams brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
The Act gives the Court the power to make fair provision from the deceased’s estate for a family members and people who the deceased have treated as family, and who are not provided for under the Intestacy rules or are unfairly treated under a will. Joy Williams expressed her “relief and delight” after a Judge at the Central London County Court ruled in her favour.
At the trial, Ms Williams argued that she should be entitled to the share that had passed to the estranged wife, so that she would have some security for the future; without it, the wife could sell the house without her consent, albeit Ms Williams would receive the value of her share. The Judge held that because she and Mr. Martin had lived as husband and wife in a “loving and committed” relationship. was that she should was entitled to make a claim under the Act and the “fair and reasonable result” was that she was entitled to receive Mr. Martin’s share in the house.
Mr Martin’s wife was ordered to pay £100,000 on account of costs within 42 days, with the balance of the costs being either agreed or to be assessed by the court.
Mrs Martin’s daughter, Louise, said later: “My mother has been a loyal, faithful wife. She has devoted herself to her husband and her family. She has tried to act reasonably in this matter. We feel that the decision today has been most unfair and we intend to appeal.”
After the ruling, Ms Williams said: “I am relieved and delighted that this case is finally over because it has taken a huge toll on me and my family. I was with Norman for 18 years and those were very happy times. I loved him, he loved me and I still treasure his memory. All I wanted was for the court to recognise that I needed to have his share of the house that was our home to provide me with some security for my future and this judgment has done just that. I believe that that is what Norman would have wanted for me. The judge’s decision means I can now stay in my home and my future is much more secure as I have the freedom to sell the property in the future when I need to.
“What has been traumatic for me is that this level of serious relationship is not currently recognised by the law and I therefore had to bring this claim in court to achieve some security and to obtain this result. I hope my situation raises awareness for others to consider their own financial position in relation to their partner and consider whether they need to take advice to protect their each other in future.”
The moral of the story is that the cost of making a will is a small price to pay for peace of mind, and to know that your loved once will avoid the costs and anguish that a contested will inevitably brings.