The widow of a property magnate, who was left assets worth £15.4 million in his will, has won the right to argue that the inheritance was insufficient to keep her in the style that she was entitled to expect and that her husband failed in his duty to make reasonable provision for her as his dependant.
The widow was the sole beneficiary of the will; however, she was left minimal cash and the assets she received were mainly real property which yielded no income. She estimated that her husband had been worth more than £400 million and pointed out that his estate had ‘mysteriously shrunk’ by the time of his death.
She argued that the only likely explanation for that was that he had gifted the bulk of his fortune to his blood relatives – including six children from previous relationships – without her knowledge. He was said to have been concerned to ‘favour his own blood relations over those he happened to marry’.
In those circumstances, the widow launched proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. She argued that any gifts that her husband had made in the final six years of his life should be investigated, and if necessary rescinded, in order to make reasonable provision for her.
Her claim was resisted by her husband’s blood relations, who pointed to the fact that her own fortune had been valued at over £40 million. It was submitted that her claim for reasonable provision was, in those circumstances, ‘extraordinarily weak’.
The High Court acknowledged that the evidence as to the extent of the husband’s fortune, and his dealings with it in the final years of his life, was very thin and that the widow’s claim was based almost entirely upon inference. However, it ruled that it would be ‘fundamentally unjust’ to block her from arguing her case further.