Claim on multi-million pound estate quashed in landmark High Court ruling
In a landmark ruling by the High Court earlier today, a widow’s request for further provision from her late husband’s estate has been rejected.
Joe Sargeant, who died in 2005, left all of his £3.2 million estate, including a large farm near Northampton, in a discretionary trust to his widow Mary, daughter Jane and her three children. In 2016 Mary issued a claim against the estate, complaining that the will made by her late husband hadn’t made adequate financial provisions for her and that she was now experiencing financial hardship.
In a discretionary trust, the beneficiaries have no fixed entitlement to the contents of the trust and it is left up to the three trustees, in this case Mrs Sargeant herself, Mr and Mrs Sargeant’s daughter, Jane, and the family solicitor, to decide who receives which assets and capital. These types of arrangements are often used to avoid splitting up complicated assets after death and to provide for the beneficiaries fairly. Mr Sargeant had hoped that using this method would provide flexibility for the family and allow the continued operation of the farm.
Since his death in 2005, outline planning permission has been granted over part of the land in Mr Sargeant’s estate.
Under normal circumstances, claims for financial provision have to be brought forward within six months of the grant of probate. In highly unusual circumstances, Mrs Sargeant made her claim a full 10 years after her husband’s passing, prompting the court to question why she hadn’t acted sooner.
The court rejected Mrs Sargeant’s claim, saying that the evidence indicated that she had fully understood the will and had until now gone along with what had been agreed between the family and her co-trustees.
, partner and will disputes specialist at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, who acted for Jane, said: “It’s not often we see claims on such sizeable estates being made so long after death and the Court’s decision today shows that delving deep into the past for personal gain is simply not an option.
“Whilst it’s unfortunate that Mr Sargeant’s estate has caused family relationships to break down, this case should act as a warning for anyone considering using a discretionary trust. Whilst Mr Sargeant intended to ensure long-term provision for family members by keeping the estate in one piece, there was no way of knowing a family fall out was on the horizon, leading to further claims on his estate.
“If anyone is unhappy with the provisions made for them in a will, acting sooner rather than later is essential. Bringing the issue to light at an early stage, and not waiting a number of years, can vastly improve the changes of a claim being accepted.”
Jane Sargeant, one of the trustees of her father’s estate, said: “After a couple of years of arguments, I’m relieved to see my father’s estate preserved in its entirety for my children, two out of three of which have attended agricultural college. It’s never a nice thing for families to fall out but in our case, following through on the intentions set out in his will took number one priority.
“Keeping our farm within the Sargeant family and fully operational was something my father wanted very much and today’s decision is exactly what we were hoping for.”
The decision was handed down by the High Court this morning.