A daughter who unsuccessfully contested her late father’s Will, has been told by a judge that she had made unemployment a ‘lifestyle choice’.
Danielle Ames claimed that her father, Michael Ames, was her best friend and that it had come as a complete shock when, following his sudden death in 2013, she discovered she had been left with nothing.
Ms Ames, now 41, is Michael’s daughter by his first wife, Carleen. After her parents’ divorced in the late 1970s, Danielle lived with her mother and Mr Ames remarried.
Following Mr Ames’ death, his entire estate was left, in accordance with his Will, to his 63-year-old second wife, Elaine, who is in poor health.
Danielle had attempted to contest her late father’s Will, arguing that the decision consigned her to living on a shoestring with her partner and children.
During the hearing, Danielle argued that her father had told her "it will be all yours one day", but in dismissing her claim, Mr Recorder Halpern QC told her that she was just "gilding the lily".
Judge Halpern said she had "exaggerated" the strength of her relationship with her father and had no moral claim on his money, adding: "I conclude that her lack of employment is a lifestyle choice. That alone is sufficient to defeat her claim".
Judge Halpern ruled that Elaine, who had been Mr Ames’s life partner for more than 30 years, needed the estate’s entire assets to lead a comfortable retirement.
Elaine had earlier told the court that her husband would have been "incandescent with rage" had he lived to see Danielle attempting to claim a share of his money, arguing that he had intentionally left his daughter nothing, as he believed grown-up children should "look after themselves".
Lee McClellan, a partner with Palmers and a specialist in post-death disputes relating to Wills said: “In his judgment, Mr Recorder Halpern noted that the mere fact an adult applicant is a child of the deceased is unlikely to be given much weight, and in practice they are unlikely to succeed, unless it can be demonstrated that the balance comes down in their favour when considering all of the elements under section 3 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
“In this case Judge Halpern appears to have been heavily influenced by his opinion of Danielle Ames as an unreliable witness. However, cases of this kind will turn on their specific facts and judges are afforded significant discretion when reaching their decisions. In other cases the lack of employment on the part of a claimant could well count in their favour. Those contemplating pursuing such a claim, or facing such a claim, will benefit from realistic advice from an expert adviser at an early stage.
“Such disputes are, sadly, increasingly common and often result in the parties incurring significant legal costs. The emotional and financial cost of such disputes means that anyone wishing to make a Will in terms which will disappoint someone who might expect to receive a certain inheritance should also seek expert advice from an appropriately qualified adviser. This should assist in reducing the risk of such claims arising following their death.”
For advice on the preparation of, and contesting, Wills and all aspects of estate administration please contact us.