This is Money featured a question this month—a woman who’d divorced her husband and he then died three weeks later. What was she entitled to receive?

The husband had been a teacher who’d been claiming a pension for the past ten years, and the couple have a 23-year-old daughter who intends to study for a PhD once she has sorted her father’s estate out.

The woman said she divorced her husband through the Government website and did not receive advice.

Legal advice

Tanya Jefferies, of This is Money, replied that the woman’s situation was “sad and complicated” and that it sounded as if the woman had already realised her mistake in not consulting a lawyer about the couple’s divorce.

In all likelihood, this meant that she was unlikely to have received a financial settlement which would have made her situation much clearer. Legal experts specialising in both divorce and inheritance replied.

Rosalind Fitzgerald, legal director at Rayden Solicitors, said that if the woman had only received a decree nisi then she would not have been finally divorced from her husband. If the woman had received a decree absolute, then that would mean the marriage had been legally ended.

‘No fault’ divorce

The terminology for divorce changed in April 2022 when the no-fault divorce was introduced but the woman’s divorce would have used the old terminology.

If they had been finally divorced, then it is unlikely they reached a legally binding agreement about the division of the finances, which would have needed to have been made into a court order before the death. This would then have ben enforceable against the ex-husband’s estate.

Regarding the man’s teaching pension, the woman was advised to speak with the scheme to determine if dependents were entitled to any benefits after the man’s death. Had the woman taken legal advice before the divorce, her ex-husband could have shared a portion of the pension with her via a pension sharing order, which would have produced an income for the rest of the woman’s life.

Reasonable financial provisions

Pension sharing orders are made to divide retirement savings upon divorce and are agreed on a ‘clean break’ basis. Former spouses can make claims for reasonable financial provisions against their late spouse’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 if they have not been adequately provided for.

The courts treat the person as a spouse rather than a former spouse on condition that they bring the claim within 12 months of the person’s death and have not remarried.

The woman’s daughter can also make a claim if the court decides her father did not make adequate financial provision for her either.

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