It is rare that a spouse needs to pursue a claim in proprietary estoppel to secure occupation of a matrimonial home owned by the other spouse on the latter’s death: the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 will usually provide a remedy. But where, as here, the deceased is not domiciled in England and Wales the 1975 Act does not apply and an interesting point arises. The trial judge had found that there had been repeated representations to the effect that the wife might live in the property for so long as she wished made over a period of more than 20 years. The wife had reasonably relied upon those representations (understandably so one might think). However, the estate argued that the wife’s long ‘rent-free’ occupation of the property owned by her husband counted as a ‘countervailing benefit’ which the court was obliged to weigh in the balance and might mitigate or extinguish her equity. Such a countervailing benefit has been taken into account in the case of a licensee who harvests a crop (Henry v Henry  UKPC 3) of a live-in carer paying no rent (Jennings v Rice  EWCA 159) and of a son-in-law paying no rent to his parents-in-law after the death of his wife (Sledmore v Dalby (1996) 72 P & CR 196). In the latter case the benefit was sufficient wholly to extinguish the equity.
On appeal, Zacaroli J. upheld the trial judge’s finding that such occupation is not a countervailing benefit. The description of such accommodation as ‘rent-free’ is ‘both inapt and unattractive’. The wife occupied the property in consequence of her status as the deceased’s wife and not in consequence of any representation made to her (unlike the Claimants in the cases referred to above). It followed from the foregoing that such a wife’s expectation that she might continue to occupy the property was not unclear, extravagant or out of proportion to her detriment. A life-interest was the appropriate remedy.
This case summary on Anaghara v Anaghara & Ors  EWHC 3091 – Proprietary Estoppel and the Matrimonial Home on the Death of a Spouse was written by Mark Dubbery. Mark was instructed by Alexander Shaw Solicitors on behalf of the first respondent in the case, to view the judgment in full please click here. For further information on his practice, please contact our clerking teams via our switchboard 020 7353 0711 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.