Graham-York v Adrian York & Ors  EWCA Civ
This case neatly summarises how the courts determine claims to a beneficial interest in a deceased’s property.
The law of cohabitee claims
The principles applied by the court in determining a beneficial interest in property were laid out in Oxley v Hiscock  Fam 211, Stack v Dowden  2 A.C. 432 and finally Jones v Kernott  1 A.C. 776 and can be summarised as follows:
Norton York (‘the deceased’) owned a property registered in his name with a mortgage in his favour with Leeds Building Society. Adrian York was the deceased’s son and the sole beneficiary and PR of the estate. Miss Graham-York lived in the property and was the deceased’s surviving partner.
Following the deceased’s death, and following a possession claim following judgment for £450,000 in respect of the unpaid mortgage, Miss Graham-York brought a claim against Adrian alleging a beneficial interest in the property, on the basis of a common intention constructive trust. She was awarded a 25% beneficial interest in the proceeds and possession and a sale were ordered. The proceeds were to first be utilised to discharge the mortgage debt and the balance then applied to discharge her 25% interest.
Miss Graham-York appealed, that:
Tomlinson LJ found the award of 25% appropriate. In particular, in sole ownership cases, the starting point is not equality of interests. Further, applying the factors above, the court will not seek redistributive justice in relation to the alleged abusive relationship, so as to compensate the claimant. The court is confined to awarding what is fair having regard to the parties dealings only in relation to the property.
The court dismissed the second element of the appeal. For the equity of exoneration to be established Miss Graham-York would have to show that the mortgage represented lending which was not incurred for the benefit of the joint household but solely for the benefit of the deceased, which she could not. The deceased was responsible for generating almost all of the income, and thus the assets, which the family unit enjoyed: “Miss Graham-York shared the benefit …… and it would be unconscionable that she should do so without sharing the burden of the mortgage.”
A version of this article appeared in Private Client Adviser magazine.
This article is not intended to be a full summary of the law and advice should be sought on all issues.