Higgins v Morgan

9th December 2021 Will Disputes

Facts

The case concerns the recent High Court decision in Higgins v Morgan and others.

The claimant was Barrie Higgins (“Barrie”). Barrie was the stepson of the late Stewart Higgins (“Stewart”) who died intestate in 2017 i.e. without a will. As a result of Stewart’s intestacy, the entirety of Stewart’s estate, thought at trial to be in the region of £195,000, was split equally between 7 distant cousins. Barrie argued that the provision on an intestacy did not make reasonable financial provision for him and therefore brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Act”) for reasonable financial provision.

To bring such a claim, Barrie had to show that he was eligible to do so. Section 1 of the Act allows those who have been considered by the Deceased as a “child of the family” to bring a claim and it was on this basis that Barrie argued he was eligible. Furthermore, Barrie argued that he had been assured on several occasions by Stewart that he would make a will in his favour.

Barrie was in a poor financial position and was financially dependent on his wife whose business was struggling due to the impact of Covid-19. Barrie had also been supported by Stewart during his lifetime.

An application for interim provision was made under section 5 of the 1975 Act and was successful, resulting in both a lump sum and monthly payments to Barrie. Section 5 allows for the court to make interim payments if it appears that the applicant is in immediate need of financial assistance, but it is not possible to determine yet what overall award should be made.

The claim sought a provision that would be sufficient to deal with Barrie’s income deficit for a period of ten years, pay his debts and provide him with a contingency fund. The cousins of Stewart who were defending the claim, argued that Barrie had not demonstrated a need for maintenance or that Barrie’s need was considerably less than that which had been claimed. 

Decision

In reaching a decision, the Court stated the following to be the appropriate questions to consider:

  1. Whether and to what extent Barrie could discharge the burden of demonstrating a need for maintenance.
  2. Whether Barrie had demonstrated the ‘something more’ that is required than merely a relationship between stepson and stepfather?
  3. If the above could be satisfied and with consideration of the factors set out in section 3 of the Act, had reasonable financial provision not been made for Barrie?
  4. If not, what reasonable financial provision ought to be?

The Court concluded that Barrie was an eligible claimant and that the intestacy did not make reasonable financial provision for him. The Court also considered that these circumstances resulted in ‘some form of moral claim’ given their close relationship as against the lack of obligation and responsibility owed to the distant cousins. The Court made an award of £40,800 to Barrie.

Success fee

Recent cases have highlighted a particular issue in cases brought under the Act. By their very nature, the Claimants are usually in financial need and as such practitioners are often acting under a Conditional Fee Agreement which requires a “success fee” in addition to costs which may be recoverable on success from an opponent. 

In the landmark decision of Hirachand v Hirachand & Anor as discussed by our Alison Parry here, it was confirmed that a success fee can be classed as a debt of the claimant to be taken into account when assessing a claimant’s maintenance need. This principle was applied in this case and as such the award was increased to £55,000.

It is essential that legal advice is taken at the earliest opportunity in matters such as these whether you are seeking to claim from an estate or considering defending such a claim. If you need any assistance in that regard, please contact one of our specialist team on 0345 241 5305.

This blog has been co-authored by Alison Parry and Charlotte Kerry.

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Alison Parry is a Partner located in Manchester in our Will and Trust Disputes department

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