It is a sad fact that not everyone lives to a ripe old age and that is why even young people in good health should not delay in making a professionally drafted will. In a case on point, a father’s sudden early death before he made a will threatened to deprive his ex-wife and two children of their rightful inheritance.
During the course of his first marriage, the man and his wife had lived modestly and worked hard to bring up their children and to establish a thriving family company. When they separated and divorced, however, he was the company’s sole owner. After he remarried, the company was sold and the husband received a sum of almost £5.2 million, which was paid into his second wife’s bank account.
Following the divorce, the man had maintained a good relationship with his first wife and their children. He promised that he would pay for them to be housed comfortably and that he would cover the costs of the children’s private education. However, he had done neither of those things before he died, prematurely and intestate.
In those circumstances, lawyers representing his first wife and children launched proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 with a view to obtaining reasonable provision from his estate. A declaration was also sought that the proceeds of the company’s sale fell into his estate.
The man’s second wife, however, contested the case on the basis that the millions he paid into her account were a non-returnable gift. It was also submitted that, as an American citizen, the man was not domiciled in the UK and that the Act therefore had no application to the case.
Following negotiations, however, a settlement was reached whereby the first wife would receive money and property worth a total of about £1 million. A further £950,000 would be divided between the two children. In approving the settlement, the High Court noted that it properly reflected litigation risks and avoided the trauma of what would otherwise have been a hotly contested trial.