The Cats Home v The Family - Claims for provision from deceased estates

“I have absolutely nothing against cats; on the contrary I like them very much; but it was wrong that they should have everything and the deceased’s wife and children nothing.”

This was part of the Lord Chancellor’s statement in support of passing the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, a light hearted illustration of the new legislation’s ability to protect grieving families who may have been left unprovided for by the estate of a deceased relation.

In England and Wales, the laws of wills and succession have developed to allow each individual the choice as to how they wish to distribute their assets after death. The concept here is that a person who has accumulated some funds, property or possessions has the ability to decide what happens to those assets whilst alive – and so they should then also be able to determine the disposal of those assets after death.

This freedom differs from the inheritance position in some of our close neighbour countries, where there are prescribed proportions of deceased estates that are reserved for inheritance by spouses and children. In this way some countries ensure that the family will be provided for when a parent or spouse dies, but this also limits any choice that person has about their assets. While there can be many arguments for and against absolute freedom of the testator, the purpose of this Act is to enable the Courts to protect parties left behind without adequate provision.

The Act allows the Court to consider claims for provision from deceased estates made by current and former spouses & civil partners, children or people cared for as children, and any other person who was dependant on the deceased. For these parties claiming, the Court can review what provision has been made for them by the deceased’s Will or under the rules of intestacy; and then determine if this provision is sufficient for that claimant’s reasonable maintenance, contrasted against the bequests and distributions already in place for other parties and organisations.

Parliament’s motives in bringing this and the preceding legislation into place, was to avoid situations where family rifts or sudden changes in relationships could leave family members destitute. It takes a social view that in dependant relationships, there should be an obligation to provide for those who are in need, and to recognise that some spouses support the ability of others to work and build up their assets – and so they should not suffer later in life from the preclusion of securing their own finances. The Act then is not here to limit the choices a person has to dispose of their estate – but exists as a protection mechanism for when a testator may overlook the need of some dependants, in favour of parties without such need.

On receipt of a claim, the Court has the power to review the wishes of the deceased and the circumstances of the claimant and beneficiaries, to decide if an adjustment to the estate distribution is required. The Court may make such financial provision as it thinks fit on review of the various parties’ financial situations; these orders could include changing the proportions of estate distributions, redistributions of property, payment of lump sums, or creations of trusts and allowance payments.

The Lord Chancellor’s humour in introducing these powers was to make an effective point about the circumstances in which the Parliament feels it may be appropriate to intervene in the distributions of a deceased estate. It is not for the Courts to make moral impositions on a testator’s wishes without limit, but rather to allow for adjustments to be made in situations where a person previously provided for may not be able to continue to take care of themselves. So leaving an estate to a cats home may not be appropriate when a spouse and children are left to fend for themselves.

This article was written by Ryan Taylor who is a Solicitor in our Private Client department. If you would like advice about an estate dispute or your entitlement to make a claim for further provision, please contact Ryan on 0208 290 7785 or email

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