Barron v Woodhead

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtChancery Division
Judgment Date2008
Neutral Citation[2008] EWHC 810 (Ch)
Date2008

Will – Family provision – Needs – Husband and wife separating two years before wife’s death – Wife’s will failing to make provision for husband – Husband’s trustee in bankruptcy obtaining order requiring him to vacate former matrimonial home – Whether husband entitled to financial provision from wife’s estate – Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

The husband and wife met in 1986 and married in 1993. They were both heavy drinkers and their marriage was a turbulent one featuring incidents of domestic violence. The wife had two children from a previous marriage. There were a number of dealings with the legal title of the matrimonial home (the property), which the husband had originally owned and used to start up a haulage business. In 1994, for example, he purported to transfer his share in the property to the wife, but it was not clear whether a deed was ever executed to that effect. He was adjudged bankrupt in November 1999 and separated from the wife in 2001, subsequent to which he remained in the property. The wife consulted solicitors but no divorce proceedings were ever issued. On 16 October 2002, the wife made a will which bequeathed £5,000 each to her four grandchildren and provided that the residue was to be shared equally between her children, who were the personal representatives of her estate. She died on 3 May 2003, leaving a net estate of approximately £315,000. In April 2005, the husband conveyed part of the property to a third party for £40,000, which he later dissipated. Later attempts by him to transfer the property to other family members were challenged by the trustee in bankruptcy, who ultimately obtained an order requiring the occupants, including the husband, to give up vacant possession by 30 June 2008. As a result of a compromise between the trustee and the wife’s estate, the estate was to receive 25% of the net proceeds of the property’s sale. Following the grant of probate of the will on 16 June 2005, the husband applied for reasonable provision out of the wife’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. He claimed that he would be homeless upon eviction from the property, that his weekly expenses exceeded his income of £190.62 and that, although his sister had funded the litigation and provided help with monthly outgoings, that assistance would now cease. He further submitted that he had provided monies invested in

Spain in the wife’s name. The wife’s children, appearing as respondents to the appeal, submitted, inter alia, that there should be no award to the husband due to his conduct, including domestic violence and evasiveness with the court and the trustee in bankruptcy over financial matters.

Held – It remained the law that a deceased spouse who left a widower was entitled to leave her estate to whomsoever she pleased; her only obligation was to make reasonable financial provision for her widower. In the instant case, the will had not objectively made reasonable financial provision for the husband. In the circumstances, his conduct was not relevant so as to decrease any award that he might otherwise expect; whilst there had been incidents of domestic violence, it was accepted that the wife had had a drink problem and had herself been violent towards the husband. The most relevant factors were the fact that he was soon likely to be homeless and that, due to his bankruptcy, all his former assets, including the property, had vested in the trustee. There was no evidence that he would be in a position to re-house himself. Accordingly, the suggestion that there should be no award or a very small award was wholly unrealistic. However, the principal concern of the court in the circumstances was to ensure that he had a roof over his head and sufficient means for his every day needs; it was not appropriate for there to be a substantial additional capital award. There were a number of reasons for that, including the fact that he had plainly dissipated funds since the wife’s death. The fact that the spouses had made no claim against each other in the two years following the separation also militated against an award over that which was necessary for his maintenance. It was therefore appropriate to concentrate on his needs. It would accordingly be directed that he had a life interest in £100,000 and that that sum be used to purchase a flat or house to be agreed between the parties or, in default of agreement, selected by the court. He would be permitted to live there rent free for the rest of his life, being responsible for the outgoings. In so far as the cost of the house was less than £100,000, the difference between £100,000 and the cost would be invested so as to maximise the income and that income would be paid to the husband for the remainder of his life. In addition he was entitled to a lump sum of £25,000 to defray any costs of moving, to set himself up in the property and to provide a cushion against the future expenses.

Cases referred to in judgment

Besterman (decd), Re [1984] 2 All ER 656, [1984] Ch 458, [1984] 3 WLR 280, [1984] FLR 503, CA.

Fielden v Cunliffe[2005] EWCA Civ 1508, [2005] 3 FCR 593, [2006] 1 FLR 745, sub nom Cunliffe v Fielden [2006] 2 All ER 115, [2006] Ch 361, [2006] 2 WLR 481.

Krubert, Re[1996] 3 FCR 281, [1997] Ch 97, [1996] 3 WLR 959, [1997] 1 FLR 42, CA.

Miller v Miller, MacFarlane v MacFarlane[2006] UKHL 24, [2006] 2 FCR 213, [2006] 3 All ER 1, [2006] 2 WLR 1283, [2006] 1 FLR 1186.

Moody v Stevenson[1992] 1 FCR 107, [1992] 2 All ER 524, [1992] Ch 486, [1992] 2 WLR 640, CA.

Parish v Sharman [2001] WTLR 606, CA.

Snoek, Re (1983) 13 Fam Law 18.

White v White[2000] 3 FCR 555, [2001] 1 All ER 1, [2001] 1 AC 596, [2000] 3 WLR 1571, [2000] 2 FLR 981, HL.

Application

In November 2005, Warwick Barron applied for reasonable provision out of the estate of his wife, Gwyneth Ann Waite, who died on 3 May 2003. The claim was made against Nichola Anne Woodhead and Daniel John Waite, his wife’s two children from a previous marriage who were the residuary beneficiaries and personal representatives of her estate. The facts are set out in the judgment.

Michael James for the applicant.

Simon Stevenson for the respondents.

JUDGE BEHRENS. 1. Introduction

[1] This is an application by Warwick Barron (Mr Barron) for reasonable provision out of the estate of his late wife Ann Waite (Mrs Waite) who died on 3 May 2003. The claim is made against Mrs Waite’s two children who are the residuary beneficiaries and the personal representatives of her will dated 16 October 2002. It will be necessary to set out the history in some detail later in this judgment and to consider the various factors required by the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the Act).

2. Representation

[2] Mr Barron was represented by Michael James instructed by Clarke Willis of Catterick. The respondents were represented by Simon Stevenson instructed by Hellewell Pasley & Brewer of Mirfield.

[3] Both counsel produced skeleton arguments for which I am grateful.

3. History

[4] Mr Barron was born on 30 January 1935. He was thus 73 at the time of the hearing. For much of his life he ran a haulage business. No documents were disclosed about the affairs of the business. In his witness statement Mr Barron stated that at one time it had a turnover of in excess of £6m per annum. According to the respondents Mr Barron has not worked since the early 1990’s and has been in receipt of various forms of state benefits since then. He was adjudged bankrupt in November 1999 on a petition from the Revenue. It is the view of the respondents that Mr Barron disposed of assets to various family members to avoid creditors.

[5] Mrs Waite was born on 29 July 1948 and was 54 when she was found dead on 3 May 2003. Mrs Waite was married before she met Mr Barron and

had two children, Mrs Woodhead and Mr Waite. Little is known about Mrs Waite’s financial affairs. No documents have been produced. All parties agree that Mrs Waite worked throughout the marriage. She was at one time a regional manager for a building society. Later she was a financial adviser. There is some debate about how much money she brought into the marriage. According to Mr Barron she only brought £2,500. According to Mrs Woodhead her mother had the entire proceeds of the former matrimonial home—in excess of £50,000.

[6] Mr Barron and Mrs Waite met in 1986 and cohabited from that date. They married in September 1993. Everyone agrees that the marriage had its ups and downs. Both Mr Barron and Mrs Waite were heavy drinkers. Mrs Waite became an alcoholic and was on at least one occasion admitted to hospital for alcoholism. There were incidents of domestic violence. When he gave evidence Mr Barron denied being violent but alleged that he had to restrain Mrs Waite on...

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