Don’t bother working! Be a benefit scrounger and make your parents leave you their cash.
Life’s a bitch and then you die, right? Still, at least you can shuffle off this mortal coil leaving any measly pennies you have managed to whomever you choose- if one of your children is a waster, cut ‘em off, right? Er, wrong.
A recent inheritance case has been heard in the Court of Appeal, and concludes that if your adult children are on benefits, despite having no mental or physical incapacity preventing them from working, you have to leave them your money. Yes, you do.
The facts of the case in question are of an estranged mother and daughter who had not spoken for a number of years. 26 to be precise. Said daughter has five children and lives off benefits with her husband a “part time...supporting actor, receiving modest earnings from occasional non-speaking roles”. Their youngest child was 10 at the time.
The mother, who died in 2004 left an Estate approaching £500,000 to be shared between the Blue Cross , the RSPB and the RSPCA, despite having no “particular love of, or interest in, either animals or birds.” Er, right. Apart from the quite significant interest in leaving them her money.
It has been widely reported that the final straw in the breakdown of relationship between the two came when the daughter named her own daughter Ellen, a name the deceased hated. This may be the case, and it may be considered a fairly unreasonable thing to do, but strictly speaking, you can be as unreasonable as you like in your own Will. The issue was whether there was ‘reasonable provision’ made for family under the Inheritance Tax (Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
In actual fact, the case has been heard twice before - the first hearing at the County Court decided there was no reasonable provision and awarded the daughter £50,000. Despite the fact that this was a “46 year old daughter suffering from neither physical nor mental incapacity of any kind who had made her life entirely independently of her mother for the 26 years prior to the latter's death...[and could not] place any responsibility on the deceased or her estate to maintain her in life or on death”, she decided this was not good enough, and appealed to the High Court for more.
Unfortunately for this scrounger woman, the High Court Judge found the previous decision to be “plainly wrong” and ruled that she should get nothing. Now, however, the Court of Appeal has overturned that decision, and have decided that she should get something, but that the amount should be determined by the County Court (again), if they can’t agree among themselves.
While it is obviously annoying anytime someone gets a free ride, the most worrying aspect of this decision is the precedent it may be setting. Previously, it was considered very difficult for an adult child, who was capable of supporting themselves to show that a Will was not reasonable- as this often-quoted 1984 case put it
“although he is in employment and capable of maintaining himself his circumstances leave him little or no margin for expenditure on anything other than the necessities of life. I have every sympathy for any plaintiff who, on relatively slender earnings, has to meet a steadily rising cost of living, but, as I have said, I cannot regard the Act as one which entitles the court to interfere with a deceased person's dispositions simply because a qualified plaintiff feels in need of financial assistance.”
However, now it appears that in order to get your hands on the dosh you merely need to be unskilled and on the dole with a bagload of kids.
The Judges at the Court of Appeal included the following in their judgment; it was “reasonable for her to wish to remain at home for the time being* rather than work” and that they “were not all to be blamed for their lack of income which makes a claim for tax credits necessary and possible.”
So there you have it. Life can be too hard for some, but it’s OK. Someone will end up paying for them...
* I would just like to point out (again) that her youngest child was 10. That’s all.