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Mistaken Belief Overturns Estate Split Agreement

When the male partner of a cohabiting couple died, apparently without leaving a will, after they had lived together for more than 40 years, his estate was administered according to the laws of intestacy, with the result that no provision was made for his partner because she had no right to a share of it under the intestacy rules. Instead, his estate was destined to pass by law to his cousins.

His partner could have brought a claim against his estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for reasonable financial provision to be made for her, so the family reached an agreed settlement with her, under which she was given the right to remain in the property for life and a lump sum of £25,000 out of the man's estate. Six years later, in 2014, she died.

When her executors were going through her effects, they found a will made by her former partner in 1973 that was previously undiscovered. This left the bulk of his estate to her, including the property she lived in. Her assets on death would have been far greater had the will not been mislaid. Her will left her estate to charity.

The find came after the normal time limit for lodging a claim against the man's estate, which had long since been dealt with, except as regards the house. The executors of her will assigned the right to pursue a claim to the charities who stood to benefit under it. They, in turn, claimed that the settlement between the woman and her partner's cousins was void, being based on the mistaken belief that he had left no will. The charities were given permission by the court to make an 'out of time' claim.

Unusually, the cousins did not contest the action, accepting instead that it was right for the property to pass to the charities. In the circumstances, the court accepted that the agreement should be set aside and the terms of the original will should stand, save only that all the legal costs should come from the man's estate.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.