In Re Coventry (deceased): CA 3 Jan 1979

The deceased’s adult son sought provision from the intestate estate. The sole beneficiary under the rules was the plaintiff’s mother. The estate was modest; the intestate’s interest in his house (he had been living there with the plaintiff). The widow was found to have a one third interest in it. The judge took the disposable balance of the estate to be andpound;7,000, of which the Master had awarded andpound;2,000 to the plaintiff. The judge expressed ‘some surprise’ that the matter had been referred to him by the plaintiff, who did not think andpound;2,000 enough. The widow was 74, and living on an old age pension and supplementary benefit. The plaintiff was 46, in good health, and capable of full time employment, but not well off. Against this background, Oliver J questioned whether this was the sort of case in which it was the intention of Parliament that the court should interfere to upset the dispositions which the legislature had made on the deceased’s behalf and decided that it was not. He dismissed the summons.
Held: The son’s appeal failed. Applications under the 1975 Act in smaller estates should be discouraged, but that does not mean that applications cannot be made or that, when made, they will not be considered on their merits.
Goff LJ approved the description of the proper approach as described by the judge at first instance: ‘So these matters have to be considered at two stages – first in determining the reasonableness of such provision (if any) as has been made by the deceased for the applicant’s maintenance and, secondly, in determining the extent to which the court should exercise its powers under the Act if, but only if, it is satisfied that reasonable provision for the applicant’s maintenance has not been made’
The court discussed the view to be taken of a deceased’s statement of wishes. Goff LJ said: ‘Indeed, I think any view expressed by a deceased person that he wishes a particular person to benefit will generally be of little significance, because the question is not subjective but objective. An express reason for rejecting the applicant is a different matter and may be very relevant to the problem.’ In the case of an application by an adult son of the deceased who was fit and able to work, and in work, some ‘special circumstance, typically a moral obligation’ was required. The application ‘failed because the deceased owed him no moral or other obligation and no other special circumstance was shown’. As to a statement left with a will: ‘Indeed, I think any view expressed by a deceased person that he wishes a particular person to benefit will generally be of little significance, because the question is not subjective but objective. An express reason for rejecting the applicant is a different matter and may be very relevant to the problem.’
The court approved the statement of Oliver J at first instance: ‘It seems to me, however, that in regarding the circumstances and in applying the guide lines set out in section 3, it always has to be borne in mind that the Act, so far as it relates to applicants other than spouses, is an Act whose purpose is limited to the provision of reasonable maintenance. It is not the purpose of the Act to provide legacies or rewards for meritorious conduct. Subject to the court’s powers under the Act and to fiscal demands, an Englishman still remains at liberty at his death to dispose of his own property in whatever way he pleases or, if he chooses to do so, to leave that disposition to be regulated by the laws of intestate succession. In order to enable the court to interfere with and reform those dispositions it must, in my judgment, be shown, not that the deceased acted unreasonably, but that, looked at objectively, his disposition or lack of disposition produces an unreasonable result in that it does not make any or any greater provision for the applicant – and that means, in the case of an applicant other than a spouse for that applicant’s maintenance. It clearly cannot be enough to say that the circumstances are such that if the deceased had made a particular provision for the applicant, that would not have been an unreasonable thing for him to do and therefore it now ought to be done. The court has no carte blanche to reform the deceased’s dispositions or those which statute makes of his estate to accord with what the court itself might have thought would be sensible if it had been in the deceased’s position. This may seem almost a truism, but I mention it because some of counsel’s submissions for the plaintiff, although he did not put it so in terms, seemed to me to be leading to the conclusion that because the deceased’s intestacy and the inflation of property values had produced something of a windfall, which could reasonably have been disposed of by the deceased in favour of his son if he had thought about it, therefore the court ought to step in and divert it to where it would be most useful and appreciated.
That is not the purpose of this legislation at all. It cannot be enough to say, ‘Here is a son of the deceased, he is in necessitous circumstances, there is property of the deceased which could be made available to assist him but which is not available if the deceased’s dispositions stand; therefore those dispositions do not make reasonable provision for the applicant’. There must, as it seems to me, be established some sort of moral claim by the applicant to be maintained by the deceased or at the expense of his estate beyond the mere fact of a blood relationship, some reason why it can be said that, in the circumstances, it is unreasonable that no or no greater provision was in fact made. This was the approach under the former legislation and it is reflected in the passage from the judgment . . in Re Ducksbury (deceased) . . In my judgment the plaintiff’s claim substantially rests on two limbs only, that is to say (a) that he is a son of the deceased with whom it might be thought that there would be a bond of natural affection and (b) that although he is in employment and capable of maintaining himself his circumstances leave him little or no margin for expenditure on anything other than the necessities of life. I have every sympathy for any plaintiff who, on relatively slender earnings, has to meet a steadily rising cost of living, but, as I have said, I cannot regard the Act as one which entitles the court to interfere with a deceased person’s dispositions simply because a qualified plaintiff feels in need of financial assistance. I cannot in this case find any circumstances which satisfy me that it is an unreasonable result of the intestacy laws that no provision is made for the plaintiff’s maintenance and in my judgment the application must fail.’
Geoffrey Lane LJ divided the preliminary stages into three and said: ‘I agree. The questions to be answered by Oliver J. were these: first of all, did the statutory provisions relating to intestacy operate in this particular case so as not to make reasonable financial provision for the plaintiff son; secondly, if they did so operate – that is to say, if there was no reasonable provision – should the court exercise in its discretion its power to order some provision to be made; and thirdly, if so, in what manner should that provision be ordered?
Since the plaintiff received nothing from the estate on his father’s death intestate, in effect the first question becomes this: Was it reasonable in all the circumstances that the plaintiff should receive no provision from his father’s estate?
The judge reserved his judgment. The result was a meticulous and painstaking examination of all the relevant facts of the case, and a conclusion that in the circumstances the contentions on behalf of the plaintiff must fail; that it was reasonable for this plaintiff to receive nothing and for the mother, who is the widow defendant, to receive whatever was left after all this litigation had been paid for.
Now whatever the rights and wrongs of this matter may be, it seems to me that this was par excellence a case in which the decision of the judge should stand as to what is reasonable and what is not reasonable, unless it is clearly shown that he has gone wrong on a point of law, or in some way has misapplied the facts of the case to the law. Particularly in the case of small estates such as this one, appeals like this to this court are strongly to be discouraged. It has been said before, in particular in the passage to which our attention has been drawn, by Fenton Atkinson LJ in Re Gregory (Deceased), Gregory v Goodenough [1970] 1 WLR 1455, 1462.’

Judges:

Goff LJ, Buckley LJ, Geoffrey Lane LJ

Citations:

[1980] Ch 461, [1979] 3 All ER 815

Statutes:

Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975

Jurisdiction:

England and Wales

Citing:

Appeal from (Affirmed)In re Coventry dec’d ChD 2-Jan-1979
The court set out the general approach to applications under the 1975 Act: ‘these matters have to be considered at two stages – first in determining the reasonableness of such provision (if any) as has been made by the deceased for the applicant’s . .
DisapprovedRe Christie (deceased) 1979
In an application under the 1975 Act, the judge treated maintenance as being equivalent to providing for the well-being or benefit of the applicant.
Mr Vivian Price QC said: ‘ ‘although reasonable financial provision means provision for the . .
CitedRe Ducksbury (deceased) 1996
Test for Reasonable Provision for Widow
Buckley J said: ‘it is not for me to try to effect the sort of testamentary dispositions which I think that a testator should have made or would have made had his mind not been affected, as I think it was, by his matrimonial disputes with his first . .

Cited by:

CitedSnapes v Aram; Wade etc, In re Hancocks (Deceased) CA 1-May-1998
The adult daughter of the deceased claimed under the 1975 Act. The deceased had acted entirely reasonably in leaving his business land to those of his children who were active in the business, but after his death part of the land acquired a . .
CitedHarlow v National Westminster Bank Plc and Others; in re Jennings Dec CA 13-Dec-1993
The adult non-dependent son of the deceased claimed provision from his father’s estate. He had been separated from his father since being a young child, and had received almost nothing. He was a married adult son living with his family in . .
CitedRe Pearce, Deceased, Pearce v Pearce CA 25-Jun-1998
The claimant, the adult son of the deceased sought provision from the estate. He said that he had taken a substantial part in the refurbishment of a family property. Later his parents had separated. At first instance Behrens J had held there was a . .
CitedBahouse and Another v Negus CA 28-Feb-2008
The court heard a renewed application for leave to appeal against an order in an action under the 1975 Act. The executors said that the judge had erred in law in his interpretation of what was meant by ‘maintenance’.
Held: Appeals under the . .
CitedIlott v Mitson and Others CA 31-Mar-2011
The claimant, the estranged adult daughter of the deceased, had claimed under the 1975 Act. The judge made an order for payment of andpound;50,000 by way of capitalisation of maintenance. The claimant appealed saying she should have received more, . .
CitedH v Mitson and Others FD 1-Dec-2009
. .
CitedWright v Waters and Another ChD 6-Nov-2014
The claimant sought provision from her late mother’s estate under the 1975 Act, and asserting a proprietary estoppel. The mother had transferred andpound;10,000 to the daughter several years before. The mother had said it was to be invested on her . .
CitedIn re Dennis (Deceased) 1981
The now deceased father had made lifetime gifts to the son. The son now faced substantial liabilities for capital transfer tax, and asked the court to provide for his from the estate under the 1975 Act.
Held: The claim failed. The payment of . .
CitedIlott v The Blue Cross and Others SC 15-Mar-2017
What is reasonable provision for daughter
The deceased had left her estate in her will to several animal charities. The claimant, her daughter, had been estranged from her mother for many years, and sought reasonable provision from her estate under the 1975 Act. The district judge had . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Wills and Probate

Updated: 29 April 2022; Ref: scu.197023