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No-contest clauses in Wills

View profile for Leah Merrifield
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Some wills include “no-contest” or “forfeiture” clauses designed to deter beneficiaries from disputing the will, or bringing a claim against the estate. A no-contest clause generally provides that if a beneficiary brings a challenge, they lose what they would otherwise have inherited under the will.

In the case of Sim v Pimlott [2023] EWHC 2296 (Ch) the effect of a no-contest clause was considered in the context of a claim for financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The 1975 Act allows certain categories of people, including spouses, to make a claim for reasonable financial provision from an estate, if they are not reasonably provided for under the terms of the will.

This was a claim brought by Mrs Sim against the estate of her late husband, Dr Sim. Mrs Sim had been married to Dr Sim for nearly 20 years, but divorce proceedings were pending when Dr Sim passed away. Mrs Sim made a number of allegations during the hearing, and described her marriage as a “hot bed of heinous abuse”. The judge did not accept that that was the case, but acknowledged that the marriage had clearly been complicated.

Dr Sim’s estate was worth over a million pounds. In his will, Dr Sim left his wife cash legacies of £250,000 and £125,000. However, the legacies were subject to conditions that she renounce any claim under the 1975 Act, vacate her home, and also give up her interest in a jointly owned property in Dubai. The will also left Mrs Sim a life interest in the residuary estate.

The judge considered that the will did make reasonable provision for Mrs Sim. The judge also decided that it had been reasonable for Dr Sim to attach conditions to the legacies. Crucially, a claimant could not trigger a no-contest clause and then argue that reasonable provision had not been made for them because they had forfeited their inheritance.

The judge said: “in circumstances where the actual provision made by the will is objectively reasonable, in my judgement, it was also reasonable to include a provision intended to discourage… an unwarranted claim under the 1975 Act”.

The judge thought there was good reason to uphold the conditions that had been placed on Mrs Sim’s inheritance, but in this case he did make some provision for Mrs Sim to ensure that she was not left homeless.

Bringing a claim under the 1975 Act where this would trigger a no-contest clause requires careful consideration of whether or not the will makes reasonable financial provision for the claimant. This is a complex area of law, and one of our specialist team will be happy to assist if you have any questions or concerns.