We are all eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court's decision in
Ilott v Mitson, but Ames v Jones, where an adult
daughter's Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants)
Act 1975 claim fell flat, suggests some are not holding their
breath. Danielle Ames not only failed in her claim, but was
criticised for being an even more unreliable witness than her
stepmother, and for choosing not to work.
Michael Ames died in 2013 leaving Danielle, a daughter from his
first marriage and his second wife, Elaine.
Michael had given a picture framing business, 'Ames
Frames', to Danielle in the 1990s. Danielle gave it
up in 2003. He still had a glazing company called Hond &
Langer ('H & L') and a balloon company in partnership
with Elaine, operating out of premises they jointly owned. Michael
and Elaine also jointly owned their home.
Danielle claimed to be paid £80 per week to work for H
& L and had payslips to prove it. Elaine disagreed and
said Danielle had never worked for H & L.
Danielle and her partner had a business called All Frames and
Mirrors, which Michael had funded to a disputed extent.
Danielle's witness statement said she and her partner
started this together, but at trial she said he ran it as a sole
Michael's will left everything to Elaine if he died before
her (if Elaine had died first, Danielle would have taken 40% and
60% would have been divided between Elaine's children and
Danielle and Elaine both gave evidence. The judge
considered both unreliable.
He described Danielle's evidence variously as
'gilding the lily', 'watered... down', and
'an invention... to get her out of a hole'.
She blamed her solicitors and her partner, failed to take
responsibility, and failed to give straight answers 'She
was not above inventing or embellishing facts if she could see no
other way of sticking to her story in the face of other
By contrast Elaine's 'demeanour impressed [the
judge] more favourably than Danielle's'.
Although there were 'a number of respects in which
her evidence was unreliable' and she had
'convinced herself of her own narrative, which [was] not
always accurate', she 'gave her evidence in a
straightforward way, avoiding exaggeration'.
Deflating balloons – economics are everything
Michael's estate was sworn at £1,049,414 for probate.
Danielle could be forgiven for thinking there was enough to
make some provision for her as well as Elaine.
However, the 1975 Act requires a judge to consider the value of
the estate as at the date of trial. By trial the balloon
business had closed down, claims against H & L had reduced the
value of its shares to nil, and other assets had been
This fundamentally altered the premise of Danielle's
Was Danielle maintained?
Danielle's 'deeply unsatisfactory' evidence
of her financial position showed that her family had a monthly
deficit of £2000. The judge considered this
exaggerated. If she did receive £80 per week from the
glazing business, this represented earnings, not maintenance.
Although Michael made generous gifts, this did not amount to
funding her lifestyle.
Danielle claimed to 'idolise' her father and
he, in turn, had 'doted' on her. Elaine claimed
they had a 'rocky and distant relationship'.
The judge considered both to be exaggerations.
A lifestyle choice
Elaine is 63, 'no longer works and cannot be expected to
Danielle accepted that she is able to work, but she is a picture
framer, and has known no other work. She would like to work with
her partner, but the business could not support them both. She
produced no evidence of having looked for work and the judge did
not consider her skills non-transferable.
The judge concluded that 'her lack of employment is a
lifestyle choice. That alone is sufficient to defeat her
Points to take away
Danielle made her bed and the judge thought she should lie in
it. This appears to be a move away from awards to impecunious adult
children, but it is unusual for a judge to be as critical of a
claimant's evidence as this judge was of Danielle.
This case is not authority but it is an indicator of judges'
wide discretion. Whether the Supreme Court reins in that discretion
remains to be seen and we continue to await judgment in Ilott v
Mitson with bated breath.
It is also a reminder not to lose focus on what is actually in
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A well-meaning friend, relative or even a carer of a deceased person may take what they believe are helpful steps to tidy up a deceased’s affairs in the days following their death to pave the way for those who will carry out the administration of the estate.
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