Re Noble [2020] WTLR 1371

WTLR Issue: Winter 2020 #181

In the matter of: JOHN ROBINSON NOBLE (DECEASED)

KRISTVEJG CATHARINA NOBLE

V

1. SOLVEIG MORRISON

AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE DECEASED

2. SOLVEIG MORRISON AND JOHN NOBLE AS BENEFICIARIES UNDER THE WILL OF THE DECEASED

Analysis

John Robinson Noble (Mr Noble) died in 2014. The plaintiff was his youngest daughter, and the first and second defendants were respectively his eldest daughter and his son. Mr Noble left a will, of which the first defendant was the sole executrix. The will provided that Mr Noble’s estate should be held in trust for such of his children as survived him by 14 days and if more than one then in equal shares. His will expressed the wish that either of his daughters be permitted to live in his dwelling house (the family home) for so long as they require, but making clear that this expression was not intended to create any binding rights or obligations. Therefore the effect of the will was that no one had the right to live in the family home and the executrix had the power to sell it and divide the proceeds among the siblings equally as per the terms of the will.

Aside from his estate, Mr Noble also held a policy with Canada Life which was written in trust for the plaintiff and each of the defendants, in equal shares.

The plaintiff brought a claim alleging that Mr Noble’s will had failed to make reasonable financial provision for her. The plaintiff was unemployed and in receipt of state benefits. She suffered from ill-health, which was the reason she had never been in gainful employment. Her future employment prospects were very poor. She had been financially dependent on her parents throughout her adult life. She had lived in the family home with her parents and received a monetary allowance from them. There was an acceptance that the plaintiff would be able to continue to reside in the family home for the rest of her life. She had provided assistance to her parents with chores and travel. The second defendant had also received financial assistance from his parents at various points during his life, including through being provided with access to his father’s credit cards. These credit cards had been cancelled prior to Mr Noble’s death. The second defendant was also unemployed.

Throughout the course of the proceedings, the plaintiff was obstructive and offensive and had been uncooperative in response to any attempts to settle the case.

Held:

Mr Noble’s will failed to make reasonable financial provision for the plaintiff. The effect of the will was that the family home would have to be sold, and the plaintiff’s inheritance under it would provide her with a sum inadequate to rehouse her. The plaintiff had limited financial resources and was unlikely to have any financial resources in future, given her ill-health, inability to work, and her lack of employment history. Furthermore, Mr Noble had assumed obligations towards her, having provided her with the security of living in the family home and having met various other expenses. He had enjoyed a close relationship with the plaintiff throughout her life. These were factors to be given great weight. Although Mr Noble had also assumed responsibilities at one point to the second defendant, those responsibilities had ceased before his death, by which point the second defendant was not financially dependent on him.

Reasonable financial provision for the plaintiff would require her to be provided with rent-free accommodation, preferably in the family home, for her life. Both defendants were entitled to be paid their reasonable litigation costs, because they attempted throughout the proceedings to reach reasonable settlement, which proved impossible only because of the plaintiff’s unreasonable behaviour. The first defendant’s costs of administration of the estate had also to be paid on the indemnity basis.

The breakdown in the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendants, and her behaviour, meant that a clean break was necessary, as were finality and closure, and so a right of residence or a life estate would be entirely unworkable. The practical difficulty that arose in this case was ensuring that there was an absolute transfer of the home to the plaintiff but that the liabilities of the estate and the reasonable litigation costs could also be met at least in part. The optimum solution would be for the Canada Life policy to be paid over by the plaintiff to the estate, with the family home going absolutely to the plaintiff. However, the plaintiff would not agree to a consent order on this basis, and since the Canada Life policy was not part of the estate the court had no power to compel the plaintiff to make a disposition of it.

Therefore the order appropriate in this case would be an order transferring the family home to the plaintiff absolutely, on the condition precedent that either she directs Canada Life to pay her share of the policy to the first defendant or else that she pay the first defendant a sum equivalent to that share within 14 days of the order, in default of which the case would be referred back to court.

JUDGMENT McBRIDE J: Application [1] The plaintiff by application dated 25 November 2015, seeks an order under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) (Northern Ireland) Order 1979 (‘the 1979 Order’) for such reasonable financial provision as the court thinks fit to be made for her out of the estate of John Robinson Noble Deceased …
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Counsel Details

The claimant appeared as a litigant in person.

Sheena Grattan appeared for the first defendant.

Donal Lunny QC appeared for the second defendant.

Cases Referenced

Legislation Referenced

  • Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) (Northern Ireland) Order 1979
  • Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975