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Domicile and Reasonable Provision for Dependants – High Court Ruling

The concept of domicile is notoriously slippery to pin down and frequently involves discerning the intentions of people who are no longer with us. That was certainly so in one case concerning a five-year-old girl’s claim for reasonable provision from the £2.5 million estate of the man she believed to be her father.

The businessman, an Indian national, and the girl’s British mother had enjoyed a nine-month relationship which ended when the latter was pregnant. Unbeknown to the mother, he was still married to his wife of 33 years in India. Sometime after the girl’s birth, he was diagnosed with mouth cancer and returned to India, where he died. By his will, he bequeathed his entire estate to his widow.

In those circumstances, the girl’s mother launched proceedings on her behalf under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, seeking reasonable provision for her from the businessman’s estate. The claim was resisted by the widow, who disputed her husband’s paternity of the child. She also argued that the English courts in any event had no jurisdiction to consider the girl’s claim because the businessman remained domiciled in India on the date of his death.

In rejecting the latter argument following a preliminary hearing, the High Court noted that the businessman had told the mother that he was divorced. He had been keen to resume his romantic relationship with her, providing both her and her daughter with financial support, and had been enthusiastically involved in the girl’s life.

There was no evidence to support the widow’s claim that she and her husband had been physically and emotionally close throughout the marriage. After selling his business in India, he had travelled widely and had invested extensively in the UK property market. He and the mother had moved into a rented property in England with a view to buying a permanent home where they would live together.

He had been closely connected to England for ten years before the girl’s birth and was a keen member of his local tennis club. By contrast, there was no evidence that he had a social life in India. Although a Sikh by birth, he had radically broken with tradition by cutting his hair and ceasing to wear a turban. The Court was satisfied that he had intended to return from India after recuperating from his illness and that his domicile of choice was in England. The ruling opened the way for the mother to pursue her daughter’s claim to a full hearing.

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