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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

22 JUL 2008

FAMILY PROVISION: Baynes v Hedger [2008] EWHC 1587 (Ch)

(Chancery Division; Lewison J; 14 July 2008)

For over 40 years the deceased, a successful sculptor, had had an intimate relationship with a female friend, and had taken a considerable role in raising the friend's five children. She had purchased a home for the friend, and later set up a trust fund for her. The deceased had been very generous to all the children, but had provided one of the children, her goddaughter, with considerable financial support. The goddaughter, an actress, had a history of incurring large debts; these had been paid off by the deceased on a number of occasions, but some years before she died the deceased informed the goddaughter that she was not willing to make any further large gifts. Nonetheless, subsequently the deceased helped the goddaughter with mortgage payments, and made some gifts of cash. In her will the deceased left her own home, an historic building, to the Landmark Trust, a specific small legacy to the goddaughter, and her residuary estate to the female friend for life, with the remainder to the other four children, explicitly excluding the goddaughter on the basis that she had 'already benefited'. The female friend and the goddaughter claimed against the estate under the Inheritance (Family and Dependants) Act 1975 on the ground that the will did not make reasonable provision for them.

The will had not failed to make reasonable provision for the female friend. She had failed to establish that she had lived with the deceased in the same household as her civil partner (in fact the two had lived in different households for the previous 30 years). Also, the nature of the couple's relationship had been hidden; although the relationship had probably been sexual, at least in its early phase, it was not possible to say that two people lived together as civil partners unless their relationship as a couple was an acknowledged one. Neither the trust fund, nor the outright gift of a house some 30 years before the death, could be said to amount to maintenance of the female friend immediately before death. When a trust fund was set up, the extent of the trust fund was a clear indication of the extent of the responsibility assumed by the settlor towards the beneficiary. The will had not failed to make reasonable provision for the goddaughter. The goddaughter had been partly maintained by the deceased immediately before her death, having received £171,000 in the 4 years preceding the death. However, the deceased had discharged any obligation she had owed the goddaughter by giving her a sound financial start in life, and by responding on a number of occasions to the goddaughter's requests for financial assistance. Although the goddaughter was likely to be made bankrupt unless she received a substantial award from the estate, the goddaughter's financial plight was largely of her own making; her conduct towards the deceased in demanding money was not conduct that should be rewarded. A sum awarded to pay someone's debts did not fall within the concept of maintenance unless it enabled the person to derive a future income, or the debts represented living expenses since the death.

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