The Importance Of Kaur V Singh (2023) – When A Wife Is Disinherited
The facts of the case were not particularly unusual. Mrs Kaur and Mr Singh were married in 1955, for some 66 years. They were survived by 6 adult children – 2 sons and 4 daughters. As is common in traditional families, Mrs Kaur was dependent financially on her husband; she brought up the children and even worked in the family clothing business. Mrs Kaur was 83 years old, disabled with many health conditions and had no income save for her state benefit.
The Estate was worth £1,990,000.
In a Will dated 25 June 2005, Mr Singh, appointed his two sons as joint executors and left the entirety of his Estate to them as he wanted to pass his Estate solely down the ‘male line’.
Mr Singh died on 21 August 2021.
On 7 July 2022, Mrs Kaur issued a Part 8 Claim in the Family Courts for a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 seeking 50% of the Estate. Of note is the fact that no Grant of Probate had even been made.
A hearing took place on 1 February 2023 before Mr Justice Peel who had no issue granting Mrs Kaur’s claim in a judgment handed down on 14 February 2023, because:
“this is the clearest possible case entitling me to conclude that reasonable provision has not been made for C. 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, and during which all the assets accrued, she is left with next to nothing. The divorce cross check points unerringly towards an equal division of the assets.”
The judgment was only a mere 7 pages long.
However, whilst it was straightforward case, it has served to be an important reminder of a number of issues as well as having more substantial implications for future cases.
Claims under the Inheritance Act can be bought in the Chancery Division or the Family Division, but paragraph 14 of the Chancery Masters’ Guidelines for the Transfer of Claims (20.05.15) advises that where claims are made by a spouse they will usually be suitable for transfer to the Family Division.
Despite being heard in the Family Division though, the relevant procedure rules are still those set out in the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR), rather than the normal Family Procedure Rules which apply to the majority of cases in the Family Division.
Only the Family Division of the High Court can hear Inheritance Act Claims, and not the Family Court. Such claims must be heard before a judge of the High Court level regardless of value. This is contrasted to the fact that normal family cases will only be heard only be heard by a High Court judge if the value exceeds £15 million.
Mr Justice Peel did think that Inheritance Act Claims were capable of being issued in the Family Court so that they could be allocated to the appropriate judicial level but appreciate that this was a matter for ‘lawmakers’.
Claims are normally only issued as Part 8 claims if there is no substantial dispute of facts, otherwise you should be using the Part 7 procedure under CPR. However, certain types of cases must also use the Part 8 procedure, and that applies for Inheritance Act claims.
The Part 8 procedure can allow parties to dispose expeditiously of matters even without the need for oral evidence so on the written evidence alone.
Whilst this was not what happened for Mrs Kaur, it was exceptional that her case was dealt with from issue to judgment in a mere 12 weeks. It was done summarily at an application hearing rather than a formal trial. It was an ‘abbreviated’ approach and potentially could apply to future cases where merits are clear and there is an urgent need for assistance or the applicant is particularly vulnerable.
Mr Justice Peel was probably assisted by the fact that one of the sons did not engage at all with the proceedings, and the other was unrepresented and attended the hearing as a litigant in person; effectively the claim was unopposed.
Claimants in similar positions may be heartened to bring such claims if they are not put off by the procedure nightmares which plague other types of claims, where a trial could easily take 12 months plus to materialise, so that there are hopes for justice to be achieved quickly.
This case has been widely reported in the press – from the daily mail to the guardian, possibly due to the value of the Estate and the cultural and social dynamics of the parties involved.
A warning has been issued for clients and their legal advisors about the ease in which spouses can be cut out of Estates especially in long marriages in which contribution is significant.
The Law Society has produced article on this case titled ‘What Kaur v Singh tells us about wills and modern values’.
Justifications even from a cultural or religious basis is no longer appropriate in modern society and courts are not slow to make an example.
Whilst one does have testamentary freedom to leave their estates to whoever they want, this right must be exercised cautiously and not without fetter.
One can only speculate whether this case would have reached the courts if the sons sought legal advice early on or engaged with the process and actually opposed their mother’s claim.