UK: First 'Child Of A Single Parent Family' 1975 Act Claim

Last Updated: 7 September 2018
Article by Paul Hewitt and Alexandra Dix

Retired headmistress fails to establish former neighbour treated her as child

A retired headmistress has failed in her attempt to claim financial provision from the estate of a former neighbour on the ground that she was his 'honorary daughter'.

What does 'treated as a child of the family' mean?

Since the 1975 Act claim came into force someone treated 'as a child of the family' in relation to any marriage (or, since 2005, a civil partnership) has been able to seek reasonable provision from the deceased's estate.

To eliminate perceived discrimination against single parent families, that category was extended in 2014 following consultation to include 'any family in which the deceased at any time stood in the role of a parent'.

Fears were expressed during the Law Commission's consultation that such an extension might open the floodgates. One submission expressed concern that 'assisting an elderly neighbour ... should not of itself justify an application under the 1975 Act'.

The Law Commission responded:

'We think that these concerns are more hypothetical than real. A court would not find that a child who was simply sponsored by the deceased or with whom the deceased undertook voluntary work was treated as a child of the family, unless the quality and the intensity of that help could be characterised as parental. Nor would simply helping an elderly neighbour, without much more, merit such a description ... there may a risk of speculative, ill-judged litigation to test the boundaries of this new category but this is no reason not to cure what appears to us ... an undesirable anomaly ... .'

Mrs Wells' case

In Wells v Chorus Law and Others, Mrs Wells, a retired headmistress, brought a claim against Mr Gould's estate. She and her husband had been Mr Gould's neighbours between 1992 and 1997, when Mrs Wells and her family moved first to Reading and then to Jersey, where she now lives. In 1992 she would have been 39 and he would have been 59.

The evidence showed that Mr Gould was an only child who never married or had any partner or children and was 'largely a recluse'.

Mrs Wells produced letters in which Mr Gould referred to her as 'HD'. She claimed this stood for 'honorary daughter'.

The Judge said that it was clear from Mr Gould's letters that he was extremely fond of Mrs Wells. In one letter Mr Gould wrote:

'You mean so very much to me, Christine, I have been richly blessed in your loving and our friendship.'

Mrs Wells visited Mr Gould and continued to do so after she moved to Reading and to Jersey. She sent him items such as thermal underwear and socks and, late in life, arranged for him to be registered at a GP surgery. Mr Gould took Mrs Wells to see his family's burial plot.

Mr Gould died in December 2016 aged 84. Mrs Wells does not receive anything under his Will.

Is this enough?

The Judge found that Mrs Wells was 'undoubtedly very kind' and regarded her actions as clearly those of someone who does genuinely care for another, but the Judge had to decide whether these actions amounted to Mrs Wells being 'considered a child of the family'.

There is little authority on interpreting the phrase 'child of the family' and no decided case since the 2014 amendment allowing claims by someone treated as a child of a single parent family.

The Judge needed to be satisfied that:

  1. there was a family in which Mr Gould and Mrs Wells were members; and
  2. in that family, Mr Gould treated Mrs Wells as his daughter.

Although Mr Gould relished receiving Mrs Wells' letters, cakes and marmalade, there was no evidence that he ever bought her presents. He never visited her house when they were neighbours let alone once she had moved away. The Judge accepted Mrs Wells' evidence that she visited Mr Gould but questioned whether the visits were frequent. Mrs Wells did not have keys to Mr Gould's property.

Mr Gould's property where he lived as a recluse until he died was 'in a dreadful condition and could only be described as hazardous and unsafe'. The Judge said there was no evidence that Mrs Wells ever suggested that central heating or hot running water be installed or work done to the property to make it more habitable.

The Judge also thought it significant that Mr Gould's Will was homemade and there was no reason why he could not have made a new Will, to benefit Mrs Wells, if he had wanted (witnessed, for example, by the butchers where he went twice a week).

Summary

The Judge was not persuaded that Mr Gould was ever part of a family with Mrs Wells.

In her assessment, he had never appeared to behave towards her as a parent would. Merely calling her 'honorary daughter' did not satisfy the test, namely that he had 'assumed the position of parent with its attendant responsibilities and privileges':

'I have not been satisfied that Mr Gould was ever part of a family with her, that he ever behaved as a parent towards her or that he ever treated as a child in that family. I am satisfied that they do not exemplify “the privileges and duties of two persons who, in regard to each other, stand in the relationship of parent and child”.'

The Defendants in Wells v Chorus Law successfully argued that Mrs Wells' attempt to extend the term 'child of the family' to include the connection between her and Mr Gould constituted precisely the 'speculative, ill-judged litigation' to test the boundaries anticipated by the Law Commission back in 2014.

The decision will be welcomed by many who are concerned by the onward creep of interference in testamentary freedom.

Withers represented the successful defendants.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Paul Hewitt
Alexandra Dix
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions