KAUR -V- ESTATE OF KARNAIL SINGH 
Mrs Kaur brought a claim in July 2022 under the Inheritance Act 1975 to seek reasonable financial provision from her deceased husband, Mr Singh, who died on 21 August 2021. Judgment was handed down on 14 February 2023.
Mr Singh and Mrs Kaur had been married for 66 years at the time of Mr Singh’s death. They had 6 surviving adult children, 2 sons and 4 daughters.
Mrs Kaur played a full role in the marriage, both as a wife and working in the family’s former business. She was financially dependent on the deceased. The judge was satisfied that she made a full and equal contribution to the marriage.
At the time of this case, Mrs Kaur was 83 years old and her income consisted of state benefits only. She was registered disabled. Following the death of her husband, Mrs Kaur had to move out of the family home and had moved in with her daughter. The deceased’s estate was estimated to be over £1million.
Mr Singh had made a will in 2005 leaving his whole estate in equal shares to their 2 sons. The reason why the will was made in these terms, i.e. excluding his wife and daughters, was because he wanted to leave his estate solely down the male line. Thus, Mrs Kaur received no provision at all under the will. Mrs Kaur brought a claim for half of the estate.
Proceedings and Law
In considering the application, the court considered future financial needs, the deceased’s responsibilities towards the applicant, the size and nature of the estate, and the conduct of the applicant. In addition, as the application was being brought by a spouse, the court could have regard to the age of the applicant, the duration of the marriage, and the contribution made by the applicant to looking after the home and caring for the family.
The court also considered the provision which the applicant might reasonably have expected to receive if on the date of death, the marriage had instead been terminated by divorce, i.e. what would she have received in divorce proceedings. This is known as the ‘divorce cross check’ whereby the surviving spouse should not be worse off as a widow than as a hypothetical divorcee.
The judge in this case, Mr Justice Peel, concluded that – “it seems to me that this is the clearest possible case entitling me to conclude that reasonable provision has not been made for (Mrs Kaur). It is hard to see how any other conclusion can be reached. After a marriage of 66 years, to which she made a full and equal contribution, she is left with next to nothing.”
The decision given in this case was therefore that the deceased’s estate did not make reasonable provision for his wife and that she should receive 50% of the net value of the estate.
Analysis & Commentary
This case was widely reported and raised a lot of interest in the tabloids and press. The reason for this is likely to be due to society today having strong objections to a husband disinheriting his long-standing wife who had fully contributed to the marriage. Added to this, the opposition to the deceased’s intention to only leave his estate to the male line. There was strong public support for the widow in this case, in contrast to previous cases where a deceased husband had instead left the estate to charity, which many considered to be freedom of choice.
This case importantly demonstrates that whilst a testator is free to write a will in whatever terms they choose, reasonable provision still needs to be made and the court will ensure that fairness prevails. It is not as simple as just cutting someone out of a will, especially a spouse who has contributed to the family for a number of years.
This case, therefore, serves as a stark reminder to anyone considering making unfair or rash decisions in their will regarding beneficiaries to their estate. Freedom of choice in the will must be balanced against justice and equality.
The Inheritance Act in this case provided an effective solution for a spouse left vulnerable after being excluded from inheritance. The court looked at the practical consequences on the widow and determined that reasonable provision had not been made for her. This decision reiterates that spouses owe financial obligations to each other which cannot simply be disregarded on death and contributions to the marriage must be taken into account.
It is important to note though that the court was not deciding here whether the husband’s preference for the male line in itself was fair, so it follows that a similar claim will not necessarily help a daughter who feels she has been unfairly excluded from a will due to a parent’s wish to benefit only the male offspring.
One way to ensure that testators do not exclude women in their family could be to introduce rules forcing a set proportion of the estate to be left to their spouse and children with equality for male and female offspring. However, this would be such a radical change and goes against the freedom of a testator that such an approach is unlikely.
Claims under the Inheritance Act are not limited to spouses but also include cohabitees, former spouses, civil partners, children, and anybody who was being financially maintained or supported by the deceased. Whilst children are eligible to apply under the Inheritance Act, the issue will only relate to whether this is necessary for their maintenance and, as such, the expectation is that independent adult children are capable of maintaining themselves without the need for provision from a parent’s estate.
The outcome of this case makes it very clear that you cannot necessarily exclude someone from inheriting your estate in preference for others. If you are thinking of making a will which excludes family members or dependents, you should ensure that you seek legal advice.