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Fielden & Graham v Cunliffe [2005] EWCA Civ 1508

In Inheritance Act claims the length of the marriage can be a factor to the assessment of reasonable financial provision for the purposes of the Act and that assessment can use principles applied in ancillary relief proceedings.

Fielden & Graham v Cunliffe [2005] EWCA Civ 1508

Court of Appeal (Civil Division) Wall LJ, Mummery LJ & More-Bick LJ

6 December 2005

Summary
In Inheritance Act claims the length of the marriage can be a factor to the assessment of reasonable financial provision for the purposes of the Act and that assessment can use principles applied in ancillary relief proceedings

Background
This was an application for permission to appeal, with appeal to follow, made by the executors of a will against an £800,000 award made to a widow under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Permission was allowed and on appeal the award was reduced to £600,000.

The widow, Mrs Cunliffe, had married the deceased in October 2001. The deceased died in November 2002. His will divided the estate between discretionary trusts for a range of beneficiaries including Mrs Cunliffe. She then instituted proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 claiming that the will had not made reasonable financial provision for her. At first instance, and before the Court of Appeal, the lack of reasonable provision was accepted by all parties with the amount of the award being the only question.

Permission to Appeal
The broad ground for appeal put forward by counsel for the appellants was that the original judgment lacked sufficient reasoning as to how the amount of the award was arrived at. They added seven other grounds that were not considered in detail by the Court of Appeal save for one: that the judge had misunderstood the principles of White v White, incorrectly thinking that 50:50 division is the starting point, and he had not given sufficient consideration to what would be an appropriate award if such a short marriage ended in divorce rather than death. Wall LJ, allowing permission to appeal, accepted the reasons argument and added that he was in no doubt that the brevity of the marriage was an important factor.

The Judgment in the Appeal
Wall LJ agreed with the trial judge's view that this should be a clean break but, given the brevity of the marriage, the widow should not expect to 'be maintained out of the estate at the standard of living' that she enjoyed while her husband was alive. Adopting an explicitly needs based approach, with Duxbury as a guide, he concluded that the widow required a housing fund of £200,000 and a further lump sum of £400,000, producing an annual income of £20,000 – £25,000. He thus rejected the trial judge's reasoning that Mrs Cunliffe should be allowed to remain in the matrimonial home if affordable and that there should be a 'Besterman' cushion. Cross-checking against the principles of White v White, the award, taking into account savings on IHT, was roughly 60% of the entire estate. He added that this was at the top end of the bracket on the facts of the case.

Read the full text of the judgment here