Does my late husband's ex-wife have a claim on pensions left to me?

My husband died very suddenly three months ago. We have no savings or property so probate has not been required.

His will leaves everything to me. We have been married for four-and-a-half years and he had changed his pensions over for me to be the beneficiary of them.

His ex-wife has now contacted me asking if his will is going to probate as she said a solicitor told her to contact me personally before anything happens.

When he divorced her, she was left with the house, the car and £100,000 savings, leaving him with only his pensions and my wages. Can she now contest his will? Can she have a claim on his pensions?

Justine Flack: Until a financial order is made, the claims which divorced husbands and wives have against one another may remain open

When people agree the financial arrangements and obtain an order detailing them, it is usual for there to be a clause preventing claims being made against the estate of the other person under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 when one party dies.

Therefore if your husband did get an order about the financial arrangements it may contain this clause.

However, even if there was no order at the time of the divorce the ability for a spouse to pursue a financial claim under matrimonial legislation comes to an end upon death.

Therefore any claims of this nature which your husband’s ex-wife could have brought before your husband passed away have now been terminated. 

Can your late husband’s ex-wife make any other claims on his estate?

Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 a former spouse does have the right to bring a claim against the estate of their ex husband or wife.

They might do so if financial matters arising from the marriage breakdown had not been sorted out, there was no order preventing them from bringing a claim or if they were being maintained by their former spouse at the time of the death.

To be able to bring a claim the former spouse must not have remarried. Any claim must be brought within six months of the date of the grant of probate.

Your husband was not paying maintenance for his ex-wife but potentially she could still bring a claim if she has not remarried.

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Where a claim is made the court will consider whether reasonable financial provision ought to be made and is necessary for meeting the claimant’s day to day needs.

The court will take account of various factors such as the size and nature of the deceased’s estate, the obligations which the deceased had to the applicant and beneficiaries under the will and the financial resources which the applicant and beneficiaries have in their own right.

The court would also consider the arrangements at the time of the divorce.

Your husband made financial provision for his ex-wife when they got divorced. It is also relevant that he had no capital assets when he died and had a duty to look after you as his wife. 

Does your husband’s ex have any claim on the pensions naming you as beneficiary?

Your husband properly dealt with his pensions by completing a nomination form or expression of wishes form to tell the pension trustees what should happen to the fund upon his death. He has nominated you as the beneficiary.

This means that the benefit of the pensions pass to you directly and do not form part of your husband’s estate. They are not dealt with by the will and to access the funds you do not need a grant of probate. 

Do you need to take any action in response to your husband’s ex-wife?

As your husband had no assets when he died other than his pensions which are dealt with outside of his estate, there is nothing that his ex-wife can bring a claim against. Claims which arose because of the marriage have now died too.

You do not need to get probate, unless there is a reason separate from this particular issue to do so.

You could reply to your husband’s ex-wife as a matter of courtesy but there is no obligation on you to do so.

If she were to instruct a solicitor it would then probably be wise to instruct your own solicitor who can send a reply on your behalf setting out the position as I have explained it.