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What does 'living in the same household' actually mean?

In claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 'living in the same household' can be a crucial element to succeeding…

As far as legal terms are concerned one would be forgiven for thinking the phrase 'living in the same household' needed any interpretation. In claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, however, when 'living in the same household' can be a crucial element to succeeding in a claim the somewhat innocuous phrase has been subjected to great scrutiny.

The act allows people who meet the relevant criteria to bring a claim against someone’s estate if either their will does not make proper provision for them or they die without leaving a will and the intestacy rules do not make the relevant provision.

In the recent case of Kaur v Dhaliwal, the parties were engaged within a month of forming the relationship but initially kept the engagement secret fearing that Mr Dhaliwal's adult children would disapprove. Ms Kaur gave up her job to work with Mr Dhaliwal in his café. They lived together in a property owned by Mr Dhaliwal for a couple of months. It was then unclear to the judge where they had lived for next three months, Mr Dhaliwal then visited family in India for a month, there was a further six months where it was unclear what the parties living arrangements were and then from July 2007 until Mr Dhaliwal’s death in June 2009 they lived together. In the periods when it was unclear what their living arrangements were, they worked together and there was no suggestion the engagement was ever broken off.

The significance of this history is that when no provision was made for Ms Kaur from Mr Dhaliwal’s estate, she brought a claim as his dependant seeking to demonstrate that they had been living in the same household as man and wife. To be eligible under the act the court had to be satisfied that they had lived together for 2 years immediately prior to Mr Dhaliwal’s death. His sons argued that July 2007 to June 2009 left Ms Kaur three weeks short of the requisite two year period and that the trial judge erred in including the two months they had lived together in 2006.

On appeal the term 'living together in the same household' was carefully considered and it was determined that to be a qualifying relationship under the act 'living together in the same household' did not have the same meaning as living together under the same roof. The judge instead relied on the settled relationship between the parties being established by 'the public and private acknowledgement of their mutual society and the mutual protection and support that binds them together' and that if they were separated for any period of time whether that was a result of the relationship breaking down or a transitory interruption.

The court's interpretation of 'living together in the same household' is an example of why specialist advice is needed in such cases.   

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