Widow wins half of £1m estate despite being cut out of will

A widow has won half of her late husband’s £1 million estate despite his will entirely excluding her and their four daughters.

Harbans Kaur, the widow, married Karnail Singh in 1955. Singh wrote his will in 2005 before dying in 2021 following 66 years of marriage.

In his will, he expressed his wishes to leave his estate “solely down the male line” to the two sons he had with Kaur.

Mr Justice Peel, who heard the case (Kaur v Estate of Karnail Singh & Ors [2023] EWHC 304 (Fam)) in the family division at the Royal Courts of Justice, heard Kaur had played a “full role” in the marriage and in the family’s clothing business. Peel J said:

“By [a] will dated 25th June 2005, the estate was left in equal shares to two of the children… the sons of the claimant and the deceased.

The reason why the will was crafted in these terms, excluding the claimant and the other four siblings, was because the deceased wished to leave his estate solely down the male line. Accordingly, the claimant receives nil provision under the will.”

Peel J said that, weighing up all the factors in s3 of the Inheritance Act 1975, “this is the clearest possible case entitling me to conclude that reasonable provision has not been made for the claimant”, adding: “It is hard to see how any other conclusion can be reached.”

Peel J noted that the “divorce cross-check” in cases disputing reasonable financial provision – wherein the surviving spouse should not ordinarily be worse off as a widow than as a hypothetical divorcee, as explained at para 13 of Ilott – pointed “unerringly” towards an equal division of Singh’s assets.

Accordingly, Peel J awarded 50% of the net value of the estate to Kaur.

Heledd Wyn, private client partner at Shakespeare Martineau, said:

“This decision is evidence that people cannot simply be cut out of wills, especially spouses which have contributed for a significant number of years. The court has been very clear on this matter and has ruled in the interest of fairness. Even though Mr Singh wished to leave his estate to his male line, this isn’t reason enough to leave nothing to a spouse and other dependents, who also have a claim on the estate. The High Court’s decision should serve as a warning to anyone considering making rash or unfair decisions about who to have as beneficiaries to their estates.”

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