Time limits under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975

28 March, 2019

Certain categories of individual can bring a claim against a deceased person’s estate if their Will (or the rules that govern how an estate

passes if there is no Will) does not sufficiently provide for their financial needs. In these circumstances, a claim can be brought against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the 1975 Act”).

The 1975 Act states that a claim must be brought within 6 months of the date that the grant of probate or letters of administration is issued. If court proceedings are not issued within this period, the claim can only go ahead with the court’s permission.

Issuing a claim (and the subsequent process) can be a costly and time intensive process for all parties. In light of this, some solicitors have advised their clients to try to reach an agreement with the other parties to an extension of time (or, more specifically, to agree that no party would object to issuing the claim outside of the 6 month period) while settlement discussions are taking place. This can save time and costs for all concerned.

However, a recent decision in High Court may well spell the end for this approach.

In  Cowan v Foreman & Ors [2019] EWHC 349 (Fam) Mr Justice Mostyn commented:

“I was told that to agree a stand-still agreement of this nature is “common practice”. If it is indeed common practice, then I suggest that it is a practice that should come to an immediate end. It is not for the parties to give away time that belongs to the court.

Mr Justice Mostyn’s comments are likely to be considered in future case law. In the meantime, however, if parties to a 1975 Act dispute want additional time to engage in settlement discussions in the run up to the 6 month deadline and the claimant’s position needs protecting, it is open to the claimant to proceed with issuing their claim and for the parties to subsequently agree a stay in proceedings.