If you die without making a will, there is a real risk that your loved ones may be left high and dry. In one case, a man who said that he was grieving over his partner’s death found himself bereft of legal rights and locked out of the flat they once shared.
The deceased was the leaseholder of the flat and, when he died, the man’s licence to occupy the premises came to an end automatically. Because the deceased died without making a will, his elderly father, as his next of kin, was the sole beneficiary of his estate. About two weeks after his son’s death, the father changed the locks on the flat and excluded the man from the property.
The man sought an injunction against the father, requiring that he be reinstated in possession of the flat. On the basis that he had been living with the deceased in the same household for over two years, as if they were civil partners, he argued that he was entitled to reasonable provision from the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
Refusing the application, however, the High Court noted that the evidence indicated that the man was supporting the deceased financially, rather than the other way around. Although the man was not currently working, that was likely to be a temporary state of affairs and, once he resumed employment, he was likely to earn at a level which would be entirely satisfactory to meet his needs.
The man pointed to his emotional attachment to the flat, but the Court was not persuaded that he had a need for maintenance which could only be met by allowing him to remain in the particular property. His plea that an order should be made permitting him to purchase the flat at its market value was also rejected. His need for accommodation could reasonably be met by renting or buying another property.
Letters of administration in respect of the estate had not yet been obtained and the deceased’s assets had yet to formally vest in his father. However, the man’s plea that he currently had a better right to possession of the flat than the father was rejected. The delay in administering the estate was in part attributable to the man having lodged a caveat in relation to the appointment of an administrator.
The Court strongly disapproved of the father’s action in changing the locks, but noted that granting the order sought would permit the man to occupy a flat in which he had no legal or beneficial interest without the consent of the owner of the estate. The Court heard further argument as to whether there was any need for the man to have access to the flat to remove his belongings.