Kaur v Estate of Karnail Singh – making an inheritance act claim

Laura Abbott, Principal Associate at Rothley Law, looks at the recent case Kaur v Estate of Karnail Singh & Ors [2023] EWHC 304 (Fam) and making a claim using the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Kaur v Estate of Karnail Singh

In the case of Kaur v Estate of Karnail Singh & Ors [2023] EWHC 304 (Fam) the deceased, Karnail Singh, died on 21 August 2021. He died testate and the terms of his will were for his estate to be divided between his two male children to the exclusion of his wife and female children. His testamentary wishes were to adopt a cultural norm to benefit only the male bloodline.

His wife, Harbans Kaur, issued a claim against his estate for reasonable financial provision pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (‘the Act’) as his spouse.

The Act allows certain people (including spouses and also cohabitees, children, and persons maintained) to claim increased financial provision from a deceased person’s estate where the will or the operation of the statutory rules which apply on intestacy fail to make reasonable provision for them.

The facts

Harbans and Karnail had been married for 66 years and they had had seven children together. One had sadly predeceased, leaving two male children and four female, all now adult. They had run together a successful clothing business. The judge noted that Harbans had ‘played a full role in the marriage’ and that she was ‘dependent financially upon the deceased who met all family outgoings’.

The entirety of the family wealth was built up during the marriage. There was some debate over the value of the estate, but it was considered to be somewhere between £1.2M and £1.9M comprising the family home, four residential properties which were let, a commercial property and some land in India.

By contrast, Harbans’ income consisted of just modest state benefit provision of £12,000 per annum and she had very little in the way of her own assets; everything had been held in her husband’s sole name. She had moved out of the family home after the date of death due to strained family relations and was living with one of her daughters. She was aged 83 and had a number of medical conditions and was registered disabled.

The arguments

Harbans’ claim was for half of the estate. Case law on which Harbans relied referenced the ‘divorce cross check’ which provides that a surviving spouse should not be worse off as a widow than had the marriage ended in divorce rather than death.

One of the sons did not oppose her claim. The other son did not comply with procedural requirements and was even observed by process servers to throw documents served on him in relation to the claim straight into the bin. Harbans’ solicitors therefore applied for an abbreviated final hearing on the basis the claim appeared to be uncontested.

The outcome

The judge concluded reasonable financial provision had not been made. He said: ‘It is hard to see how any other conclusion can be reached. After a marriage of 66 years, to which she made a full and equal contribution, and during which all the assets accrued, she is left with next to nothing. The divorce cross check points unerringly towards an equal division of assets.’

Accordingly, he went on to order Harbans half of the estate on the basis she had indicated this would meet her needs so represented reasonable financial provision. He also ordered in addition that her costs should be met from the estate and that £20,000 should be made available to her immediately on account of her entitlement, to meet her needs in the short term while the estate was continuing to be administered.


For practitioners, the decision is likely to be unsurprising and morally it feels like the only fair result. That said, it is a useful reinforcement of the legal position.

What is also helpful in the case, though, is that the claim was issued on 7 July 2022 and the hearing was on 1 February 2023. It was dealt with in less than 7 months whereas usual timescales for this sort of litigation are 18 months.

Making use of the abbreviated enquiry procedure was very effective and minimised the cost, delay and stress for Harbans. An abbreviated enquiry is an overall evaluation of the case in an abbreviated fashion. Whilst it is unusual to have no opposing argument or engagement from a defendant, if a hearing can be conducted on this sort of ‘summary’ basis (without a full trial) it might make the process feel more accessible to potential and worthy claimants who are nervous about the prospect of difficult litigation.

The Act can be a controversial topic because in English Law we do have an established and popular principle of testamentary freedom; but this case is a perfect example of why the Act is justified and necessary. Without this route to claim, Harbans would be left impoverished and vulnerable, receiving nothing from a hugely sizable estate even if its value is at the lower end of its estimated range.

Further, whilst we as a society today rightly recognise that people’s beliefs, values, cultural and religious observance must be respected, this case demonstrates that they will not always be supported by the law if the result is injustice.

About the author

Laura Abbott is a Principal Associate at Rothley Law and is a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP).

See also

What are the intestacy rules in England and Wales?

The use of CFAs to fund Inheritance Act claims and the impact of the Hirachand case

What makes up the estate for the purposes of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975?

Find out more

Kaur v Estate of Karnail Singh & Ors [2023] EWHC 304 (Fam) (BAILII)

Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (Legislation)


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Publication date: 19 June 2023

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.

Originally produced for The Gazette.