Time limits for Inheritance Act claims

Senior Partner David Young

Senior Partner David Young discusses the importance of time limits for Inheritance Act claims.

At first glance a recent court decision [the case of Bhusate v Patel] appears to relax the requirements for applying to the court for permission to bring an Inheritance Act claim when the time limit has expired, but do not be fooled.

The court allowed a widow to make a claim against her late husband’s estate nearly 26 years after the time limit had expired. Mr Bhusate died in 1990 without a will and the court found that Mrs Bhusate was thereafter prevented from effectively administering the estate by ‘implacable hostility’ from her step-children. Moreover, Mrs Bhusate did not speak, read or write English and had no understanding of the requirements of her role as the person most entitled to administer her late husband’s estate. The court therefore decided that there were compelling reasons to exercise its discretion and grant her an extension of time to bring her claim.

A claim against an estate under the Act can be brought by certain categories of applicants where reasonable financial provision has not been made for them. There is a time limit for bringing such a claim of 6 months from the date of Probate or Letters of Administration, and if the claim is not brought within 6 months an application has to be made to extend the deadline, which is entirely at the discretion of the court. There are a variety of factors that the court takes into account, including how late the claim is, whether the defendants were given notice of a potential claim, whether the estate has been distributed, whether the claimant could be compensated elsewhere and the strength of the claim.

Earlier case law was considered in the case, particularly one in which an extension of time wasn’t permitted when the delay was only 17 months as opposed to 26 years! This clearly demonstrates that each case turns on its own facts and one should never assume that even a very strong case or only a short delay will result in the court granting an extension.

It is also important to note that the court granting an extension to bring a claim does not mean that the claim itself has been successful; it simply affords an opportunity to make the application for reasonable provision from the estate.

The moral of the story is that Inheritance Act claims by those disappointed by the provision made for them should always be brought within 6 months of the date that Probate is granted, and if you do find yourself late then speak to a specialist solicitor as soon as you can if you have not done so already. A solicitor with specialist experience of inheritance claims can help you navigate the minefield of time limits when making a claim and maximise the chances of a successful outcome.

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