A view to a Will

06 October 2021

Author: Naomi Lamont
Practice Area: Private Client

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King Lear said, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child” epitomising how fraught and difficult relationships between fathers and daughters can be. This article considers the recent English Court case of Miles v Shearer in which two adult daughters made a claim against their late father’s estate on the basis he should have made financial provision for them in his Will. The article particularly considers what lessons can be learned from this in relation to parents making Wills in which they don’t want to provide for their adult children.

Background

Anthony (Tony) Shearer, a former head of a merchant bank, died in 2017 leaving two adult daughters Juliet Miles and Lauretta Shearer. Tony Shearer was married to their mother Jennifer for a number of years until their divorce in 2007. Tony later married Pamela Shearer. Tony made a Will on 2nd February 2015 in which he left everything to his wife Pamela and made no provision (in the first instance) for Juliet and Lauretta. His estate on death (not including joint assets held with Pamela) was worth just over £2M. His daughters made a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 in England and Wales [the relevant law in Northern Ireland is The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) (Northern Ireland) Order 1979]. They claimed that reasonable financial provision should be made for them from their father’s estate.

Lifestyles

Both Lauretta and Juliet had received a privileged upbringing and financial help from their father in adulthood. However, Tony gifted both daughters’ sums in 2008 to enable them to invest in property and made it clear that this was the last financial help he would give them. Both daughters lived independently, getting married and subsequently divorced. Notably at the time of their divorces, they did not receive any financial assistance from their father.

At the time of the Court judgement, Juliet was living with her mother and being financially provided for by her. She argued that she had a shortfall between her income and expenditure. The Court made particular reference to her ‘luxurious lifestyle’. Lauretta argued she needed financial help in relation to her mortgage.

Court’s Decision

The Court held that the daughters’ lifestyles did not demonstrate a need for financial provision to maintain them. They could adjust those lifestyles to maintain themselves. The Court accepted that while Juliet and Lauretta did have a privileged upbringing, they were ‘not entitled to that standard of living indefinitely’ and that their later lifestyles were not dependent on their father’s support. The Court held that their father made it clear after the last gift in 2008 there would be no further financial support from him.

This case raises a number of interesting points in relation to adult children who do not benefit under a parent’s Will. Firstly, it reinforces the gold standard of the need to demonstrate financial dependence on the deceased parent and that this financial dependence should be of a reasonably period of time immediately prior to death. The Court decision also showed that the court is willing to differentiate between lifestyles and that just because a child experienced an affluent childhood there was no expectation this should be maintained into adulthood. Indeed the Court have made it clear that they will take into consideration whether adult children can adjust their lifestyle to maintain themselves before looking to a parent’s estate for financial provision.

Secondly, the decision also shows how important a parent’s intention during lifetime is in relation to a financial provision claims. Tony Shearer made it clear in his lifetime that after making gifts to his daughters in 2008 there would be no more financial provision for them. It is worth noting that the Court took into account Tony’s choice not to leave his daughters anything in his Will. Moving forward, this suggests that the Court will take into account actions during lifetime when determining a financial dependency claim on death.

Finally, the Court did take into consideration that this was the first reported case where a surviving parent had assets derived from a divorce with the deceased and had taken on ‘obligations and responsibilities’ towards adult children.

As time moves on and the ‘bank of mum and dad’ is used more and more between adult children and their aging parents, Miles v Shearer is an interesting decision. It shows when a parent feels they have done enough for their children during their lifetime and reinforces both how difficult it is for adult children to succeed in a claim for financial provision from a parent’s estate. The decision highlights what a parent must do both in their Will and during lifetime to have autonomy for their assets to be distributed on death as was their wish during their lifetime.

Conclusion

In summary, this case highlights the importance of taking good professional legal advice in relation to estate planning and ultimately resulting in a properly drafted Will.

Our Private Client team offer advice on all aspects of estate planning and Will drafting. If you would like to discuss estate planning, making a Will or any other points raised in this article please contact Neil Bleakley, Andrew Davison or Naomi Lamont.

*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.

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