Lawyer calls for change in women’s inheritance traditions

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Image source, Jessika Bhatti

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Attorney Jessika Bhatti said she was “inundated” with cases excluding women from wills

A lawyer hopes to change attitudes towards inheritance law among British Asians after winning a case in which a widow secured half of her late husband’s fortune.

Jessika Bhatti represented Harbans Kaur, 83, in the High Court last week.

Mrs. Kaur received the funds even though her husband left his fortune to his sons.

Ms Bhatti said she now wishes for a culture shift that would spare others the struggle her client faces.

Calling for a change in “traditional mentality,” she said she has been contacted by many women with similar stories since her court victory.

Ms Bhatti, who has Indian heritage, said she believes the practice of making male heirs sole beneficiaries is more common among older generations of British Asians and while less common among younger ones, it still needs to be questioned .

She said: “I’m starting to understand now that this could be a common practice,” adding that families justify it by saying that married women “are the responsibility of the husband’s family and the sons look after the mother would”.

The High Court heard how Karnail Singh, from the West Midlands, sold his estate, which is believed to be worth between £1.2million and £1.9million, to his two sons and nothing to his widow – his 66-year-old wife – or left his four daughters.

But after representing Ms Bhatti, the judge, Mr Justice Peel, found that it was clear that no “reasonable accommodation” had been made for the widow, with the court ordering her to receive 50% of the net value of the estate.

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Ms Bhatti says she has been “inundated with individuals and families seeking help in almost identical circumstances,” with one woman telling her of the negative impact it has had on her mental health.

The lawyer said she believes there are “many more” women in such situations, albeit with smaller amounts of money.

Ms Bhatti explained that Ms Kaur’s case was of particular importance because the court ruled in her favor without the need for a lengthy or “awkward” process that could have taken years to come to trial.

She said she hoped the result would send a message that women shouldn’t be excluded from wills and that men would “think twice going forward”.

Ms Bhatti also hoped, she said, that the case would prompt will writers to take notice and discourage their clients from cutting out women.

She advised others facing the issue to discuss the situation with family first but seek legal advice if they cannot resolve the matter, urging them “not to let it go”.