Widow too late to make 1975 Act claim on farmer’s estate

A farmer’s widow has been refused permission to make a time-barred claim for reasonable provision from her late husband’s estate, more than ten years after Grant of Probate was issued.

Joe Sargeant died in May 2005. There was no dispute over his will, which left almost all his estate to a discretionary family trust, of which his wife, Mary, and daughter, Jane, were named as beneficiaries.

The estate consisted mostly of farmland, originally farmed by a partnership including other family members, but more recently by Joe Sargeant alone. Though valued at £3.2 million at the time, it is now said to be worth about £8 million, because a considerable amount of the farmland has been granted planning permission to be developed into housing.

Mary Sargeant’s claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 seems to have been provoked by a dispute with her daughter Jane regarding ownership of this land. Jane maintains that the land was owned by the farming partnership, and therefore passed to her by succession, outside the will. Mary, who is now in financial difficulties, disputes this and claims the land was part of her late husband’s personal estate. Mary told the court that she intends to bring a claim to this effect, along with an application to set aside Jane’s original partnership agreement with her father, and to remove her as her father’s executor. Mary would, however, drop these claims if her reasonable provision claim was allowed.

The difficulty is that the Act imposes on claimants a deadline of six months after probate (probate was granted on Joe Sargeant’s will in 2006). As a consequence, Mary Sargeant had first to obtain permission to bring the action many years out of time, on the basis that she did not understand the financial implications of her position as a discretionary beneficiary. The England and Wales High Court has, however, rejected her request.

Lindsey Sharples is a solicitor in the private client team at Barker Gotelee, Solicitors in Ipswich.

Personal Solicitors Ipswich – click here for more information on our range of services