Joy Williams brought a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 against the estate of her deceased partner Norman Martin. Her claim was brought both on the basis that for a period of two years before Mr Martin’s death she had been living in the same household with him as his wife (s1(1)(ba)) and alternatively on the basis that she was wholly or partly maintained by the deceased (s1(1)(e)).
At the date of his death Mr Martin remained married to his wife Maureen Martin, though they had been separated from 1994 until his death in June 2012. Mrs Martin defended the claim, and challenged Ms Williams’ standing to bring a claim as a cohabitee.
Mr Martin had married Mrs Martin in 1967. Together they had two children who at the date of the claim were both adults. In 1992 Mr Martin started having an affair with Ms Williams, and in 1994 he informed Mrs Martin that he was moving out. Ms Williams and Mr Martin moved to a cottage (which Mr Martin had purchased with his wife as an investment property) and lived there until 2009. In 2009 they purchased a property together (Coburg Road), where they lived until Mr Martin’s death. Work colleagues believed that Mr Martin and Ms Williams were married, and she wore a ring given to her by Mr Martin on her ring finger. They shared household expenses.
Mrs Martin remained living in the former matrimonial home, a property owned with Mr Martin as joint tenants. Although they never divorced, the couple reached a ‘DIY financial settlement’. Mr Martin did not sever all links with the former matrimonial home and used the address for business and financial documents.
Mr Martin had made a will in April 1986 passing his entire estate to Mrs Martin. He had not updated this will before his death. Therefore on his death, the jointly owned property passed to Mrs Martin on survivorship, and she also became entitled to his free estate, the main asset in which was his half share in Coburg Road.
Against this background Ms Williams sought reasonable financial provision from Mr Martin’s estate, and in particular sought Mr Martin’s share of Coburg Road. Ms Williams, a 69 year old woman, was living in straitened circumstances below the standard of living she enjoyed with the deceased, and there would be a shortfall between her income and expenditure in the future.
- 1) How a couple present themselves to the outside world is a highly relevant factor in considering whether they are living together as husband and wife, as is the individuals’ own perceptions. This is a question of their intentions as demonstrated by their conduct. One would expect to see a ‘life-time commitment’.
- 2) Mr Martin had not harboured any marital feelings towards Mrs Martin. The marriage had continued in name only. It was unreal to suggest that Mr Martin had been maintaining two households in the sense of a man living parallel lives with two women. In all material respects Mr Martin and Ms Williams were living together as husband and wife in an intimate, committed and loving relationship.
- 3) Ms Williams therefore succeeded in establishing standing to bring a claim under the Act. (Obiter) Mr Martin had also been maintaining Ms Williams at the time of his death.
- 4) The will had plainly failed to make reasonable financial provision for Ms Williams, who received nothing following a long cohabitation.
5) A clean break award was necessary. Taking into account all the relevant factors under
- of the Act, including Ms Williams’ age, the length of the relationship and her financial resources and needs, Ms Williams should receive the entirety of Coburg Road absolutely.