Inheritance dispute: Court awards cohabitant portion of partner's £1.5 million estate

In the recent case of Thompson v Ragget (2018), the High Court has ruled in favour of an elderly woman who was excluded from her late partner’s £1.5 million estate.

Joan Thompson was the longstanding partner of the late Wynford Hodge who died on 4 February 2017.

Ms Thompson commenced legal proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Families and Dependants) Act (1975) after she was excluded from Mr Hodge’s will.

In this inheritance dispute, Ms Thompson asked the court to award reasonable financial provision from the estate due to her being the cohabitee of Mr Hodge and due to her financial dependency on him.

Mr Hodge and Ms Thompson had lived together as a couple for 42 years prior to Mr Hodge’s death. The couple lived together at Mr Hodge’s farmhouse and caravan park. Ms Hodge maintained the home and worked for free at the caravan park. She also cared for Mr Hodge’s elderly mother for many years.

Mr Hodge had made several wills over the years naming Ms Thompson as beneficiary. However, in his latest will made in December 2016, he excluded Ms Thompson completely and instead left his entire estate to Karla Evans and Agon Berisha, who were tenants of one of his properties.

Mr Hodge’s motivation to exclude Ms Thompson was fueled by his dislike of Ms Thompson’s children and his desire to prevent them from inheriting anything from his estate.

In 2015, Ms Thompson had a serious fall. After she was discharged from hospital, Social Services were concerned that the conditions in the farmhouse were not suitable so she went to live in a local nursing home. Mr Hodge wanted her home so she then then came back and they lived together in one of Mr Hodge’s caravans.

In 2016, Mr Hodge purchased a nearby cottage (Elidyr Cottage) for them both to live in. However, at the end of that year, Mr Hodge was seriously ill and died in February 2017. Ms Thompson went back to live in the nursing home but made it clear that she wanted to come back to live on the farm.

Whilst Mr Hodge had suggested in his letter of wishes that Ms Thompson could not live alone after his death and would need to go into a care home, the expert evidence at court proved otherwise. Such evidence confirmed that Ms Thompson had sufficient mental capacity and was fit enough to reside in private accommodation with a relevant social care package.

Ms Thompson only had modest savings, of around £2,500. Her only income comprised state benefits totalling £1,114 per month.

The barrister acting for the beneficiaries argued that reasonable financial provision in this case should be limited to Ms Thompson simply receiving a life interest in a property as opposed to having a property transferred outright to her.

The Judge took into account the length of the cohabitation and Ms Thompson’s significant contribution to the welfare of Mr Hodges' family, including looking after the home, and said that an outright transfer of property was appropriate. The judge also considered her potential need to carry out further works to the property without the need to seek permission.

In the circumstances, a clean break was appropriate and the Judge ordered Elidyr Cottage to be transferred to Ms Thompson along with the sum of £160,000 for her future maintenance and care and £28,845 to renovate Elidyr Cottage so that it was suitable for her needs.

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