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More than a “Bread and Butter” lifestyle?

08 Jun 2017

Following the UK Courts’ rulings in Illot v Mitson, relating to claims by adult children against a deceased’s estate, the Court of Appeal in Australia is hearing an appeal brought by the late billionaire Michael Wright’s estate against a ruling in favour of his daughter born out of wedlock, Olivia Mead.

Judgments made in Australian cases are not binding on the Courts of England & Wales but they are often taken into consideration, especially where the facts of the case are particularly unusual. The facts of this Australian case are interesting in part because they contrast so starkly with the facts in Illot, and in particular the Claimant’s financial position.

In 2015, Ms Mead successfully argued she should be entitled to more than the $3 million left to her in her father’s will. She made her claim for reasonable financial provision and was awarded $25 million. That decision is now being challenged by the estate of Mr Wright, and the appeal is currently on-going.

In support of her initial claim, Ms Mead put forward a list of items she argued she needed which meant the $3 million left to her was not enough to give her reasonable financial provision from the estate.

Ms Mead’s requests included:

  • Pilates lessons until she reaches the age of 97;
  • 20 pairs of $300 shoes each year;
  • two pairs of Tiffany & Co sunglasses each year;
  • a home five times the average price of homes in Perth with “luxury furnishings”;
  •  $300 a week for utilities; and
  • $950 per week for food, alcohol and fine wine.

Ms Mead also asked for a diamond-encrusted bass guitar, worth $250,000, but the Court rejected this item as not being a legitimate expense which Ms Mead was entitled to claim.

Mr Wright’s estate described the list of items claimed by Ms Mead as “quite extraordinary” and acknowledged that, whilst Ms Mead was entitled to more than a “bread-and-butter” lifestyle, $3 million was enough to provide her with a house and an annual income for life and should, therefore, be deemed as reasonable financial provision.

Mr Wright’s estate argued that the size of the estate should not “trump” other factors in the case. Mr Wright, who passed away on 2012, left an estate worth $2.7 billion.

The case, whilst relatively unusual in factual terms, supports the view that the very high value of an estate can influence the court’s decision when looking at whether to award additional financial provision to an adult beneficiary.

Ms Mead had previously argued the $3 million was not adequate to cover her “proper maintenance support, education or advancement in life”. The estate is arguing that Ms Mead’s claim goes beyond what was “adequate” and “proper” for her future.

The case is a reminder of the uncertainty that still surrounds what a court will consider to be ‘reasonable’ financial provision from an estate, particularly where the person challenging the will enjoys a high standard of living compared with ordinary standards. Adult children who wish to challenge an estate should seek legal advice on whether they can support a claim.

For further information or advice, please contact Sara Malik, Solicitor in our Commercial Litigation Team.

Call: 0191 232 8345

Email: Sara.Malik@hay-kilner.co.uk