The forgotten tale of Cinderella and the Inheritance Act Claim.

17th December 2018 Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning

Subjects for blogs can come from the oddest places. It’s not often you find yourself considering a fairy tale as a viable legal scenario but, with pantomime season not far away, a discussion with a colleague this week had me asking the following: Could Cinderella have made a successful claim against her late father’s estate?

There are a number of variations on the story, so for ease, we will go with the Disney film scenario:

Cinderella loses her mum at a young age. Her father remarries, but he also dies young, leaving Cinderella with her step-family as her only remaining family. Cinderella and her step-family don’t get on. Cinderella’s step-mother has two children of her own from a previous relationship.

This leaves us with the following family tree, from Cinderella’s perspective:

cinderella.png

The starting point under the intestacy rules, assuming her father did not leave a will, would be that the first £250,000 of Cinderella’s late father’s estate passed to her step-mother, together with her father’s personal possessions, and half of any of his estate in excess of £250,000.

Cinderella would also receive half of the estate above £250,000 however, as she is working as a scullery maid throughout the story and dressed in rags, it’s reasonable to assume that her father’s estate didn’t exceed £250,000. Of course it’s always possible that the estate did exceed that sum but that her step-mother has concealed this information and has failed to transfer any of the funds to her (she is a wicked step-mother after all!).

So, would it be possible for Cinderella to bring a claim against her late father’s estate?

As a child of the deceased she would fall within the category of people who could bring a claim under section 1(1) (c) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“The Act„).

In order to assess her claim a court would have to consider all of the factors listed in section 3(1) of the Act and then consider whether such financial provision has been made for Cinderella by her father as would in all the circumstances have been reasonable for her to receive for her maintenance.

If the court reached a decision that such provision had not been made, they would then have to consider what would be reasonable for Cinderella’s maintenance. Cinderella doesn’t have any property of her own and there’s no discussion in the film as far as I recall as to whether she gets paid for her work as a maid so at first glance it certainly looks like she has a strong claim.

What constitutes maintenance was considered in the case of Re Dennis and can be summarised as being such provision to meet a party’s everyday expenses of living. This is generally considered to be an income requirement rather than a capital need of the claimant but a need for accommodation can be included as part of the claim if that was being provided by the deceased.

However, if Cinderella were to bring a claim under the Act this doesn’t mean she would receive all of her dad’s estate. Considering the claim would require a balancing act to be undertaken by the court. A judge would have to consider the needs of other beneficiaries against those of the claimant and so they would have to also weigh up the financial situation of the step-mother as the recipient of the estate (don’t forget she has two children of her own to look after) against Cinderella’s financial requirements.

Interestingly, it would be possible for the ugly sisters to also bring a claim against Cinderella’s father’s estate on their own, as they would both fall within section 1 (1) (d) of the Inheritance Act 1975.

Of course, as we all know, Cinderella goes on to marry the Prince, and no doubt this changes her financial situation considerably. She lives in the palace with her husband, so no longer has to worry about keeping a roof over her head, and we can probably assume that she receives a considerable income from the fairy tale equivalent of the Treasury.

Part of the role of the court is to consider the ongoing needs of a claimant under Act, and whether their circumstances have changed, so exactly when the matter went to trial would be crucial in determining the value of her claim.

If she had never met the Prince, it is entirely plausible that she would have had a sizeable claim against her late father’s estate.

But, if the matter went to a trial after her marriage to the Prince it would in all likelihood mean that, when weighed against the financial needs of her step-mother and, if they are also claiming, her step-sisters, even if successful she could expect any claim to be considerably reduced.

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Ian Johnston is a Associate Solicitorlocated in Manchesterin our Commercial Litigation department

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