Inheritance Disputes: Cohabitant Awarded Life Interest Instead Of Capital Award

A 65 year old man has been awarded a life interest in the proceeds of sale of his late partner’s home in a recent inheritance dispute case.

In the recent case of Banfield v Campbell (2018), Andrew Banfield made a claim for reasonable financial provision from the estate of Sarah Campbell (“the Deceased”). Mr Banfield’s claim was brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Families and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Act”).

Mr Banfield had been cohabiting with the Deceased for approximately 20 years prior to her death in 2015. The couple had started a relationship in 1993, a couple of years after the Deceased’s husband had passed away.

Initially, Mr Banfield started staying at the Deceased’s property three to four nights a week, the rest of the time he stayed with and cared for his mother. In 2001, Mr Banfield moved in with the Deceased on a full time basis.

The Deceased made a Will in 2001 leaving a legacy of £5,000 to Mr Banfield with the rest of the estate being left to her son James Campbell. The Deceased also prepared an accompanying letter of wishes which expressly stated that she wanted the majority of her estate to go to her son.

Mr Campbell defended the claim and alleged that Mr Banfield was not entitled to claim under the Act as a cohabitee. He suggested that Mr Banfield in the more recent years, was just a lodger because he was sleeping downstairs (and apart from the Deceased). Mr Banfield suffered with a number of health problems and consequently, he found it more comfortable to sleep downstairs. The Court said that it was unfair to characterise Mr Banfield as being no more than a lodger and concluded that Mr Banfield had standing to apply as a cohabitee.

The Court was not willing to make an award of capital to Mr Banfield. Master Teverson referred to the Supreme Court’s decision in Illott v Mitson [2017] UKSC 17 which confirmed that it is not the purpose of an award of maintenance under the Act to confer capital on the applicant.

Important factors in the Banfield case were the fact that the main asset of the Deceased’s estate, namely her property, was a previously owned asset (inherited by the Deceased from her late husband). In addition, the Deceased’s relationship with Mr Banfield did not bear any children and consequently, the Judge saw no reason why Mr Banfield should receive a capital asset to pass on to his own relations.

The housing requirements of Mr Banfield were expensive and to provide a lump sum would mean advancing 50% or more of the estate to Mr Banfield. The Judge ordered that the estate property was to be sold and granted to Mr Banfield a life interest in 50% of the proceeds of sale to be used in or towards buying a property for him to live in. In addition, the court directed that an additional fund of £20,000 be kept available within the estate to cover the costs of any specific adaptations that Mr Banfield needed to meet his mobility needs.

It is worth noting that the Deceased made her Will in 2001, around the time when Mr Banfield moved in with her full time and before their relationship became serious. If the Deceased had reviewed her Will, this inheritance dispute may well have never happened. This case should serve as a stark reminder for testators to regularly review their Wills and to update them if their circumstances change.

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