A widow brought a claim for reasonable financial provision to be made for her from her late husband’s estate. The claim was brought 25 years and nine months after the six-month time limit mandated by s4 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
At first instance Chief Master Marsh, exercising the broad discretion afforded by s4 of the 1975 Act, gave permission for the claim to be brought, notwithstanding the extremely long time since the six-month period had expired: see Bhusate v Patel.
The facts of the present case were unusual – hence the very long extension of time. Of particular relevance were:
- (i) the appellants did not take any action to compel the administration of the estate;
- (ii) the administration of the estate was left in limbo for very many years; and
- (iii) when the respondent took action to enforce her rights on the intestacy, she was met with a successful defence of limitation, effectively leaving her disinherited.
The appellants appealed against this decision for a profuse number of reasons. In essence, these were that the Chief Master had improperly exercised his discretion when granting permission to extend time under s4 of the 1975 Act.
- (1) The appeal was dismissed. The Chief Master had not erred in the exercise of his discretion.
- (2) The time limit imposed by s4 of the 1975 Act is not analogous to time limits under the Civil Procedure Rules, so neither the overriding objective nor the Denton jurisprudence are relevant to applications under s4.
- (3) The court must determine applications under the 1975 Act based on the facts as they are at the date of the hearing. As a result, a change of circumstances can permit a claim to be made out of time, even if there could have been no claim if the claim had been made within time.
- (4) The court’s discretion to extend time was unfettered. It could extend time even if there is no good reason for the relevant delay, though where the delay is a lengthy one, the court is bound to search for an explanation for the delay, and to consider that as part of the circumstances of the case.
- (5) The existence of a trigger event is not a precondition to the grant of permission in a case involving a long delay. Rather, the presence of a trigger event is one relevant consideration in a case where, following a period of delay, the applicant has changed his or her mind and decided to make a claim, following a previous decision not to litigate.
- (6) The failure to administer the estate was an important consideration that weighted in the claimant’s favour.
- (7) It was wrong to say that the claimant should be barred from bringing her claim as she was to blame for failing to administer the estate. Even if true, this was at most a matter of conduct which the court should take into account in its consideration of the substantive claim.
- 8) In determining whether or not the claim is arguable, the test to be applied is the same as is applied on an application for summary judgment. However, the court is entitled to go beyond this and find that the claim is a strong one.