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Nahajec v Fowle: a fitting legacy to Ilott v Mitson?

Posted: 03/08/2017

The case of Ilott v Mitson, an estranged daughter making a claim against her late mother’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975, took a number of years going through the courts, ultimately reaching the Supreme Court, and received widespread legal and non-legal press attention.

But what happened next? How have the courts been treating similar cases since then?

One such case is that of Nahajec v Fowle, a decision last month in Leeds County Court. The claimant was one of the deceased’s three children. The deceased had been estranged from them all (at his own choice) for many years, although the claimant alleged that there had been a short period of reconciliation a few years before he died. The deceased left his entire estate of approximately £265,000 to his friend, the defendant, with a letter of wishes explaining his reasoning for excluding his children.

The claimant, whilst employed, was in fairly straightened circumstances and had debts from pay day loan companies. She wanted to improve her prospects by training to become a veterinary nurse. The main difference between this case and Ilott was that the defendant was himself in financial difficulties and this was not a case where the defendant was a charity with a no “needs based” defence.

The court held that reasonable financial provision had not been made for the claimant. The judge emphasised that each case is fact sensitive and he did not reach his decision simply because the judge in Ilott made the same decision on similar facts. The judge held that it was not the claimant’s fault that her father was stubborn and intransigent. He also found that it was a genuine wish of the claimant to become a veterinary nurse.

The claimant claimed a sum of £59,000 to include capitalised sums to pay off her debts, fund her fees for GCSEs and a veterinary course, and for maintenance and travel costs whilst she was training.

The judge awarded the claimant the sum of £30,000. This was on the basis that he felt that an award simply to pay off her debts would not be sufficient. He did not think that £59,000 was necessarily unreasonable but said that that was the wrong test. He looked at section 3(3) which states that the court must have regard to the manner in which an applicant might expect to be educated or trained. Whilst in this case he found that the claimant had a very genuine wish to train as a veterinary nurse, there was no evidence to suggest that she was being trained at her father’s death nor that she expected her father to pay for her training. The award therefore was his best estimate of the capitalised costs of maintenance for a reasonable time and took account of her debts as well as the fact that she may never actually undertake the course she wanted to do.

The award amounted to 11.3% of the estate. In Ilott the claimant was awarded 10.3% of the estate. 1975 Act claims are never an exact science and the judge was at pains to say that each case is fact sensitive so it remains to be seen what awards are made in similar cases.

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