What can you do if your partner dies without a Will?
Barbara Millicent Roberts, A.K.A. Barbie, has died, aged 64. Ms Roberts was found in the early hours of this morning at her Dreamhouse residence by her long-term companion, Kenneth Carson. Tributes have poured in across the globe for the first person on the moon, presidential candidate, surgeon, and CEO, Ms Roberts. Our reports suggest that Ms Roberts died without a Will and so one question rests on everybody’s lips; is Mr Carson set to inherit the Barbie fortune and continue the Barbie legacy?
Unfortunately, Barbie died without a Will and so the intestacy rules apply, doling out the estate to pre-defined categories of individuals. As Barbie is not married and has no children (the first eligible category for non-married individuals), her estate will pass equally to the second eligible category; her parents. Is all lost for Ken?
The 1975 Act
Ken may have a lifeline in the form of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the “1975 Act”).
Under the 1975 Act, reasonable financial provision can be made for certain categories of individuals that are not otherwise provided for under a Will or the rules of intestacy. Fortunately for Ken, one of those categories is an individual who had been living in the same household as the deceased “as husband and wife” for the whole of the 2-year period ending immediately before death (s.1(1)(a) of the 1975 Act).
Numerous reports suggest that Ken has been cohabiting with Barbie in the Dreamhouse for a number of years and the two have been dating on and off since 1961, having been officially back together since 2011. It looks like the requirements of the 1975 Act for Ken to be treated as a cohabitee are met and Ken is entitled to bring a claim against Barbie’s estate for reasonable financial provision.
Cohabitees are afforded a lower standard of reasonable financial provision than those of married/civil partners under the 1975 Act and so, unfortunately for Ken, he will only be able to claim provision for meet his maintenance needs from Barbie’s estate. For Ken, this means that he will only be able to claim expenses to cover the cost of his everyday living, allowing Ken to live at a standard appropriate in all the circumstances of the case; this will be ‘neither a luxurious nor poverty-stricken level’ but, importantly, will be limited to his maintenance needs. The court will also look at Ken’s personal wealth and consider whether he can support his everyday needs from his own finances. This obviously will not do for Ken.
If they had been married (of course, Ken would be the first to inherit under the intestacy rules, but let’s assume that Barbie had a Will that didn’t make adequate provision for Ken), the court would make an award for Ken based on the standard of living that Ken and Barbie had enjoyed together and take into account the reasonable expectation that Ken might have for that standard to continue, whether or not that was limited to his maintenance needs; all reports suggest that Ken and Barbie lived an extremely lavish lifestyle with a passion for fashion and the finer things in life so the standard would be very high indeed. Ken would also have been able to take advantage of his position as a spouse by asking the court to award a sum akin to what he would have received if the marriage to Barbie had ended by divorce rather than death.
So, had Ken and Barbie been married, Ken could have claimed much more than as a cohabitee, including, possibly, one of his greatest desires, the Dreamhouse. However, not all hope is lost.
Lewis v Warner
The case of Lewis v Warner  was a novel decision by the court in a 1975 Act claim by a surviving cohabitee. In that case, Mr Warner cohabited with the deceased, much like Ken and Barbie, but was not left the property in which he lived when his partner died. The case went to the Court of Appeal, who upheld the original judgement and decided that Mr Warner was entitled to have the property in question transferred to him for a capital sum, despite it having been left to someone else in the Will.
Ken, being a former western singer, surgeon, hamburger chef, and astronaut is likely very wealthy in his own right and could afford to purchase the Dreamhouse if such an order was made by the court. Ken could ask the court to follow the ruling of Lewis v Warner and to allow him to purchase the Dreamhouse from the estate, fulfilling his dream of converting the Dreamhouse into the Mojo Dojo Casa House.
Whilst Ken will not be inheriting the Barbie fortune, he could pursue a claim under the 1975 Act for an award to meet his future maintenance needs, including the transfer to him of his treasured Dreamhouse.
1975 Act claims are not straightforward and there are a multitude of factors for the court to take into account. Ken would be strongly advised to seek legal advice as soon as possible to assist him with his claim. The Contentious Trusts and Probate Team at Birketts have a wealth of experience dealing with 1975 Act claims on behalf of both claimants and defendants. Please contact us to arrange an initial consultation.
This article was written by Anna Kelly, Associate. For any enquiries, please contact Anna or another member of our team on 01473 406386 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.