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The influence of lifestyle choices in Ames v Jones and other claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975

Posted: 04/10/2016

It has recently been announced that the long-awaited appeal by the charity beneficiaries in the case of Ilott v Mitson will be heard by the UK Supreme Court on 12 December 2016. That judgment should bring to an end the widely publicised, long running saga of this case which followed the deceased’s death in 2004, some 12 years ago, and should provide clarity to practitioners advising clients on claims under the 1975 Act, particularly those by adult children.

In the meantime, such cases are continuing to be heard by the courts, including in August this year (but reported widely in national newspapers over the last few days) the case of Ames v Jones.

The applicant daughter in that case, Danielle Ames, claimed that reasonable financial provision had not been made for her from her late father’s estate. He left his entire estate to his second wife, Danielle’s stepmother, Elaine, with whom he had been in a relationship for 33 years (but had married only shortly before his death). 

The court was very critical of the evidence given by both parties but was particularly unsatisfied by the evidence put forward by Danielle in respect of her needs and resources. As such, the court found that it was not able to ascertain whether Danielle and her partner were able to make ends meet or not. In addition, the court took the view that Danielle was capable of working and had not shown that she was unable to obtain work. It considered that her lack of employment was a “lifestyle choice”. That alone, the court held, was enough to defeat her claim.

It is interesting that the courts have again considered the issue of what is a “lifestyle choice” for an applicant. The issue was also raised in Ilott v Mitson.  In that case, the Court of Appeal considered the “lifestyle choices” made by the applicant, the deceased’s daughter, which included her choice of husband and deciding to work in the home to bring up their five children as opposed to seeking paid employment outside the home. These “lifestyle choices” had been at least part of the reason for the estrangement between her and her mother and her mother’s decision to leave nothing to her in her will. In that case, the Court of Appeal held that the estrangement, resulting in part because of the applicant’s “lifestyle choices”, should not deprive her of an award. While she may have not made the choices which her mother had thought were necessary to be successful, she had made a success of her life in other ways.

The two cases are different and each case was decided on its facts, and particularly on the quality of evidence put forward which in the case of Ames seems to have been a key factor in the court’s decision. However, both highlight the issue of “lifestyle choices” and how they may or may not impact on a claim under the 1975 Act. It will be interesting to see whether there will be any comment from the Supreme Court on the issue in its judgment following the hearing in December.

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