Kaur v Singh: The power of the Inheritance Act 1975 to protect surviving spouses who were not provided for

The recent case of Kaur v Estate of Karnail Singh & Ors [2023] EWHC 304 (Fam) demonstrates the vital role that the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 plays in ensuring fair provision for surviving spouses, even where they have been excluded from their late spouse’s will.

The facts of Kaur v Singh were stark. Mr and Mrs Kaur had been married for 66 years and all of their wealth, estimated at between £1.2m – £1.9m, had been built up during the marriage. Mrs Kaur, now 83, was found to have made a full and equal contribution as a wife and working in the family clothing business throughout their long marriage.

However, when Mr Kaur died in August 2021, his will left his entire estate to his two sons, excluding his wife and four daughters. As Mr Justice Peel noted, “The reason why the will was crafted in these terms, excluding C and the other four siblings (the sisters…), was because the deceased wished to leave his estate solely down the male line”.

Mrs Kaur, left with only modest state benefits, was forced to leave the matrimonial home and live with a daughter. She brought a claim under s1(1)(a) of the 1975 Act as a surviving spouse, seeking reasonable financial provision from her husband’s estate.

In what the judge described as “the clearest possible case” for an order under the Act, the court awarded Mrs Kaur 50% of the net value of the estate. Weighing up the s3 factors, Peel J highlighted the length of the marriage, Mrs Kaur’s full contributions, her age, disabilities and very limited means, and the size of the estate which had accrued during the marriage. The ‘divorce cross-check’ in s3(2) also pointed clearly to an equal sharing being reasonable provision.

Notably, the court was able to determine Mrs Kaur’s claim summarily only 12 weeks after issue, without the need for a trial, by way of an ‘abbreviated inquiry’ process under Part 8. This was possible because the defendants either consented to or did not engage with the claim. An initial £20,000 payment was also ordered under s5 to meet Mrs Kaur’s interim needs pending distribution of the estate.

From a legal perspective, the case illustrates several points about claims under the 1975 Act:

  • The Act remains a powerful tool to protect spouses who have been unfairly left out of wills, especially where the marriage was long and assets were built up during it. A spousal claim can clearly overcome even an express wish by the deceased to leave wealth along gender lines.
  • A surviving spouse’s claim is strengthened where they are elderly, in ill-health, have clear financial needs and would be left in a precarious position without provision. A long marriage with substantial contributions will also boost a claim.
  • Where the merits are very strong and the estate substantial, the court may not need precise figures for the assets and can instead award a percentage share to ensure all reasonable needs are covered.
  • In straightforward cases, especially where defendants consent or do not engage, claims can potentially be determined very quickly without the usual procedural stages. The court is willing to take a pragmatic approach to give effect to the Act’s purpose of ensuring reasonable provision.
  • Early strategic consideration of an ‘abbreviated inquiry’ and/or a summary judgment application may help bring an early resolution, saving time and costs.

For individuals dealing with an unfair will, Kaur v Singh is a reassuring reminder that the 1975 Act (the Inheritance Act) remains a very effective remedy in appropriate cases. For those making wills, it underlines the risks of excluding spouses who may have strong claims. While people are free to leave their estates as they wish, a will that does not make reasonable provision can be vulnerable to a successful challenge.

At C-PAID, we specialise in advising on and pursuing 1975 Act claims on behalf of surviving spouses and other family members. Kaur v Singh demonstrates the clear potential to secure a fair outcome in spousal claims under the Act, even in the face of an exclusionary will. If you have concerns about a will or need guidance on making a claim, our experienced team can provide expert advice and representation, and our solicitors frequently take on such cases on a No Win No Fee basis. Please do contact us for a free initial consultation.