What Happens When Two Individuals Each Seek Letters Of Administration when Someone Deis Intestate?
Written by Stuart Parris
Where a person dies intestate (i.e. without having made a Will), the Administration of Estates Act 1925 will apply which determines who will be the beneficiaries of a deceased’s estate.
The Act prioritises classes of people and creates a hierarchy as to who will inherit in the absence of another class. A similar hierarchy list exists in relation to the persons able to obtain Letters of Administration (i.e. the right to administer the deceased’s estate) and this is set out in the Non-Contentious Probate Rules 1987. Letters of Administration can be granted to up to four administrators which allows a number of people from a single “class” to be appointed jointly if necessary. But in rare circumstances, two competing applicants within the same class can each apply. In a recent decision, two such applicants both claimed to be the deceased’s spouse which is a problem. In England and Wales, it is illegal to be married to more than one person under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and therefore, the Court cannot recognise a deceased individual as having more than one spouse.
A polygamous marriage is where a person has more than one wife or husband. Whilst this is illegal in England and Wales it is legal in some other countries so it is possible for a person to enter into polygamous marriage outside of England and Wales and then return, albeit the marriage will not be entirely recognised. Where this arises it can create issues for the Court, as seen in the case of Kelly-Lambo v Lambo.
Kelly-Lambo v Lambo
This case revolved around a Claimant’s application for Letters of Administration which she submitted on the basis that she was the deceased’s widow. This was contested by the Defendant who also claimed to be the deceased’s widow, alleging to have married the deceased 30 years before the Claimant. The Court was therefore required to determine who was the “proper” wife and therefore who should be granted Letters of Administration.
The Court determined the Claimant had been married to the deceased and cohabited with him in the UK until his death. There was insufficient evidence however for the Court to determine that the Defendant was also married to the deceased and therefore the Claimant was deemed to be the sole surviving spouse. This meant the Claimant was entitled to seek Letters of Administration. Even if the Court found the Defendant was also married to the deceased, it was commented that they would have appointed the Claimant as sole administrator as this was appropriate “in the circumstances”. This refers to the fact that the deceased and the Defendant were not together and had not been for a considerable amount of time.
This decision may be followed again given that it is entirely possible for this scenario to arise, and it emphasises that where there are two conflicting applicants the Court will consider the facts of the case and circumstances of the relationship to determine who shall be entitled to obtain Letters of Administration. Such cases will therefore fall on its facts in order to establish entitlement.