High Court Rejects Widow’s Bid for Direct Control of Her Husband’s Millions

Husbands and wives have no right to directly inherit their spouses’ estates. The High Court made that point in rejecting a widow’s complaint that her wealthy husband had left her at the mercy of others by placing her inheritance in trust.

The husband was a highly successful entrepreneur and was worth about £16 million when he died. He was plainly devoted to his second wife but did not make any direct provision for her in his will. In part for tax reasons, but also to protect the interests of his children and stepchildren, he established two trusts of which his widow was the principal beneficiary.

The widow launched proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 on the basis that her husband had not made reasonable provision for her in his will. In seeking direct control of the money and assets held in the trusts, she argued that she had been left without security, in that the trustees could, if they wished, cut her off without a penny.

In rejecting her claim, however, the Court noted that her arguments were tantamount to saying that every widow has an entitlement to outright testamentary provision from her husband. That would be to introduce a form of forced spousal heirship that was unknown to law. That could not be right and the husband had been entitled to provide for her by generous trust arrangements.

The widow had in fact received a substantial monthly income from the trusts and, given her husband’s clear wishes, there was no evidence to suggest that the trustees would be obstructive or indifferent to her reasonable needs. She had also lodged her claim well outside the six-month deadline that applies to such cases and the Court declined to waive or extend the time limit.