Stanley Warner had been living with Audrey Blackwell in her house in the village of Twyning Green in Gloucestershire since 1995, when he was 70 and she was 62. Mrs Blackwell died in May 2014. Her last will was never found but a reconstituted version admitted to probate left her whole estate to her daughter Lynn Lewis, who was appointed executrix.Warner, by now aged 90, continued living in the house after his cohabitant’s death, although it now belonged to Lynn Lewis. In January 2015, Mrs Lewis sought a court order to evict him from the property so that she could sell it. She also sought damages for trespass.
Warner responded by making a claim on Mrs Blackwell’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. He admitted that he had never expected to survive her, and even if he did he had not expected to receive anything from her estate, nor did he claim any. There was no understanding either that he would be able to stay in the house in the event of her death, and in fact he was significantly better off than the deceased. He even signed a paper, drafted by Mrs Lewis before her mother’s death, stating that he had no wish to make a claim on the house.
His reasonable provision claim was founded only on the fact that he would be ‘very unhappy and very stressed if he had to move from the house where he had spent the happiest 20 years of his life’. He did not particularly want financial benefit from the claim, he just did not want to move out.
At the original hearing at Gloucester and Cheltenham County Court, Gardner QC sitting as recorder ruled that the 1975 Act claim was admissible under s1(2)(b) of that act, because the maintenance of ‘a roof over the head of an applicant for 20 years clearly came within the definition of ‘maintenance’ in that section. ‘Its removal, by there being no provision for the continuance of the same in the reconstituted will, meant, therefore, that it failed to make reasonable financial provision for [Warner]’, said Gardner QC.
A joint expert was appointed to value the house, and produced a figure of GBP340,000. Lynn Lewis was not satisfied with that valuation and obtained an alternative valuation of GBP385,000, which was put forward as part of her case. Gardner QC decided that the solution was for Warner to buy the house from his former cohabitant’s estate for GBP385,000.
However, Mrs Lewis and her husband were not satisfied and appealed this decision on three main grounds. The first was the general point that Gardner QC ‘failed to apply the law in accordance with either judicial guidance or the facts, and as a result came to utterly wrong conclusions in respect of the merits of the claim’ – meaning essentially that the 1975 Act dealt only with financial provision, which Warner was not claiming. They also asserted that Gardner had mistakenly treated Warner’s claim under s1(1)(e) of the Act, and had accepted it on the basis that he was being maintained by Mrs Blackwell ‘without paying any or any sufficient heed to the evidence or even considering the necessary balancing exercise’. The final ground was that Gardner QC had exceeded his powers by making an order which he had no power to make.
Mr Justice Newey in the England & Wales High Court has now dismissed their appeal. The first ground he rejected on the basis that ‘maintenance’ need not necessarily mean a transfer of money from the estate to the claimant. ‘There appears to me to be no absolute bar on the provision of something for full consideration representing financial provision for a person’s maintenance’, he said.
Moreover, Warner’s claim, he said, was always founded on s1(1)(ba), and so the second ground of appeal failed. The third ground – that Gardner QC had no power to make the order that he made was dismissed on the basis that Gardner QC was entitled to decide that Mrs Blackwell’s will failed to make reasonable provision for Warner, notwithstanding the latter’s financial means.
Newey J duly confirmed that Warner is entitled to buy the house for GBP385,000 (Lewis v Warner 2016 EWHC 1787 Ch).
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