Male Heirs, Beliefs and Culture vs UK Law
The rich tapestry of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds present in the United Kingdom can on occasions lead to a clash between the application of the laws of the land and an individual’s deeply held beliefs and cultural values.
One such culturally significant issue has recently played out in the courts in two recent cases: the issue of disinheriting family members because of their sex.
Kaur v Singh
In the recent case of Kaur v The estate of Kamil Singh & Ors  EWHC 304 (Fam) an 83 year-old widow (Mrs Kaur) brought a successful claim against her late husband’s estate, which was valued at over £1million. Mrs Kaur, at the age of 83, and having been married to the deceased for 63 years before his death discovered after his death that she has not been included as a beneficiary to his estate. Similarly, their five daughters had not been included in Mr Singh’s will either. It transpired that only his two sons had been bequeathed Mr Singh’s £1million+ estate, with no provision having been made whatsoever for the female members of Mr Singh’s family. Mrs Kaur brought a claim against the estate for a reasonable financial provision, resulting from her 63-year marriage to the deceased.
High Court judge Mr Justice Peel was told that Mr Singh had made his will with the instructions that he “wished to leave his estate solely down the male line“. This followed Mr Singh’s deeply held belief that only the male members of one’s immediate family should inherit family wealth, to the detriment of much-loved wives, sisters and daughters who do not continue to benefit from a father’s wealth after they have died.
Within her court proceedings, Mrs Kaur claimed that her late husband had not made reasonable provision for her in his will. He had left her nothing, and she was therefore left to support herself with her £12,000 per year in state benefits, as opposed to the £1million+ estate to which she had benefitted throughout her life. As his spouse (emphasising here that she was his spouse of 63 years), Mrs Kaur argued that she was entitled to a share of his estate so that financial provisions be made for her as his wife and closest relative.
Mrs Kaur’s claim was successful. The court accepted that the reasonable provisions which Mrs Kaur was entitled to from her late husband’s estate had not been made. The court awarded her in excess of £500,000.00 to reflect a 50% share of her late husband’s estate.
Similar to the above case, follows the case of Re Ho Chau Ying Chin  EWHC 523 (Ch) which was decided using different legal principles, but which resulted from a similar strongly held belief on the part of a male parent that only male family members should inherit a family’s estate on the death of a parent
Mrs Chin was of strong and sound mind. She had written her will in 2009, leaving her estate fairly and equally to all of her children (sons and daughters). Discovering what Mrs Chin had written in her will, Mrs Chin’s husband, holding a traditional view that only their son’s could inherit their wealth, applied pressure on her to amend the terms of her will to align with that deeply held belief. Mrs Chin did not wish to do so, effectively disinheriting her daughters should she die, so she did not amend her will at that time.
However, following a stroke and in an attempt to avoid ongoing family disputes, Mrs Chin was found to have been worn down by relentless pressure from her husband and son to leave her estate to her son only, rather than making provisions for her daughters (as she had done in her previous will). In one of only a handful of cases of its kind, this claim was made on the basis that Mrs Chin had disinherited her daughters on the basis of her husband’s undue influence towards her.
On her death, a claim was brought by Mrs Chin’s disinherited daughters, who argued that their mother had been made to amend the terms of her will by the male members of her family who themselves believed that only male family member should inherit. They argued that the will did not reflect their mother’s values or believes, but those of their father. It was argued that Mrs Chin herself would never have and did not wish to disinherit her daughters from her estate.
Mrs Chin’s daughter’s claim was also successful. The court found that Mrs Chin had only amended her will due to the intense pressure and undue influence of her husband and/or her son. The will which provided only for her male family members was found to be invalid as a result, and her previous 2009 will which split her estate equally between her children was administered.
While the legal judgements differed in the two cases above (being a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and one for undue influence respectively), the outcome for disinherited females of the deceased or their family’s views on inheritance remain very similar. A strongly held cultural belief leading to the decision or encouragement that certain much to loved but less culturally preferential family members be disinherited will be overturned.
As legal counsel for Mrs Kaur commented after her favourable judgment in February 2023, this judgment (and that of Re Chin) will open the door for others in a similar position.
If you require advice on the topics raised in this article, please do not hesitate to contact us at Herrington Carmichael LLP, we have dedicated dispute resolution solicitors who have experience in dealing with a variety of disputes in both misrepresentation and private nuisance.
This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.
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