Tuesday 27 September 2016

Man awarded 45pc of his deceased partner's €1.41m estate despite her brother's objection

Tim Healy

Published 14/05/2015 | 17:16

The Four Courts in Dublin
The Four Courts in Dublin

A 64-YEAR-old man is entitled to 45pc of his deceased partner's €1.41m estate under civil partnership law despite objections by her three brothers, the High Court ruled.

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The woman died last year after a five year battle against cancer, aged 69, and without making a will.

The man asked the court to make financial provision for him from her estate under the 2010 Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations Cohabitants Act.

The youngest brother, supported by his two siblings, argued he did not qualify as he was just a close friend, not a cohabitee.

He was required to show he had been in an intimate cohabiting relationship with their only sister for at least five years, the period required for couples with no children.  

Ms Justice Marie Baker was satisfied there was a close relationship, and up until the time of her illness, a sexual relationship, entitling him to be provided for as a cohabitee. 

While he owns a farm, which the judge valued at €1.44m, he had a relatively modest gross income of €45,000 per annum and was entitled to maintain some elements of the lifestyle he had with his deceased partner, the court ruled.  

She found they had a close relationship since 1995/6, after her mother died, that he moved in with her in 2004 and had no other home since then.

The couple met in 1994 and were both involved in farming, particularly to do with horses although she also had a job in a the community. 

The judge was satisfied he moved in with her on the day  his own mother died in 2004.  While his family farm had been signed over to him, his family home went to his only sibling, a brother.

Despite conversations between the couple in later years about marriage, it never happened.

The deceased often said her view was that women post childbearing age had no reason to marry, and she had said to him that marriage would not improve or change their situation “one bit”, the judge said.

He had felt "burnt" financially and emotionally by a previous marriage which had been annulled and from which there were also no children.

In 2005, his late partner benefited from a €3.1m windfall arising out of a property deal on land which had been left to her by her mother.   She invested around €1.3m in property.

Their lifestyle as a couple also changed. She bought him a Landrover car, gave him cash gifts and spent €500,000 doing up her home.  They became members of a leisure club, had frequent holidays, dined out most nights and joined the local golf club.

Ms Justice Baker was satisfied, despite testimony from the three brothers they had never seen any evidence of the man's toiletries in the bathroom of their sister's home or his clothes, he was a man of modest and minimal needs and did have toiletries and clothes in the house.  He had also given evidence of attending numerous family weddings at which they stayed in the same room overnight.

He had looked after his late partner, including bringing her to hospital, once she was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, the judge said.

The court was told however that during her last two weeks of life last year, when she was admitted to a hospice, there was a hostile atmosphere between the brothers and the man.   However, her partner made the funeral arrangements and was at the head of the church party and in bringing the coffin to the cemetery.

The judge said an important event happened in the hospice the week before she died.   The man said his partner expressed a wish to get married but was told by a priest of the three months notice requirement for marriage.

However, they were not informed an emergency application could have been made to a court to dispense with this requirement. 

The judge said the evidence was the couple had discussed marriage a few years earlier and he was concerned the money she had come into on occasion acted as a barrier.  In one conversation, she jokingly said if they were to marry he could be seen locally as a "gold digger".

While she had not made a will, the judge took into account the deceased, in 2013, prepared a document stating she wanted the family home to go to her brothers and the investment property to her partner, the judge said.

After further distribution of certain sums to her family, her partner was to get the rest, the document stated

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