Last week the Supreme Court ruled against a daughter who challenged her mother’s right to leave her entire estate to animal charities.
The case concerned Heather Ilott who took action after her mother, who had died in 2004, left the majority of her £486,000 estate to three animal charities.
The daughter had been estranged for 26 years having left home at 17 to live with her boyfriend.
In her Will Ms Jackson left a £5,000 legacy to the BBC Benevolent Fund and the remainder to three charities with which she had no connection during her lifetime - the Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). No provision was made for her daughter. She also left a letter of wishes explaining the reason for leaving her daughter out of her Will. This included:
"I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate. I have made it clear to my daughter... that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die."
Attempts to reconcile during Ms Jackon’s lifetime failed – with the parties placing blame on each other.
Ms Ilott, who has five children and relies on state benefits, claimed under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 which allows certain people to apply to the court for ‘reasonable provision’ to be made.
In 2007, Judge Million awarded Ms Ilott £50,000 from the estate but she appealed this amount. Then in 2009 Eleanor King J. held that Judge Million had erred in his finding that the Will had failed to make reasonable financial provision, a decision that would have left Ms Ilott with nothing. Ms Ilott appealed and the Court of Appeal overturned King J.'s decision, turning to the High Court to resolve issues of quantification. Parker J. then upheld the original £50,000 award.
Ms Ilott appealed once more, seeking a larger share of the estate, and her appeal was allowed. She was awarded £143,000 that would allow her to purchase her Housing Association property, in addition to the reasonable costs of the purchase – and a further £20,000 which she could draw down optionally, to provide her with additional income topping up her state benefits.
This award was then appealed by the charities.
The Supreme Court heard the appeal on 12th December 2016 and has since delivered their judgement in which seven justices unanimously held that the bulk of the six-figure estate should go to the charities, per Ms Jackson’s Will.
However, Judge Million’s original decision to award Ms Ilott £50,000 was restored.
The Court noted that the Inheritance Act required a single assessment by the judge of what reasonable financial provision should be made, having regard to all the circumstances of the case including specifically the factors set out at Section 3 of the Act. Judge Million, in hearing the case initially, did exactly that. He reached the conclusion that there was a failure of reasonable financial provision, but the level of reasonable provision would be was affected by the nature of the relationship between mother and daughter. The Supreme Court found that this was the correct approach.
The outcome is a clear message that we are still free to choose who will benefit from our assets. Those who have been left out of a Will can still make a claim for reasonable provision under the Inheritance Act but the wishes of the testator will be taken into account and will be a significant factor.
However, in her supplementary judgement, Lady Hale noted the “unsatisfactory state of the present law, giving as it does no guidance as to the factors to be taken into account in deciding whether an adult child is deserving or undeserving of reasonable maintenance”.
What you can do
If you want to leave someone out of your Will who might make a claim against your estate after your death, it is important to get specialist advice from experts in this area. Whilst you cannot rule out the possibility of someone claiming using the Inheritance Act after your death, there are steps you can take to minimise the risk. Speak to our Later Life Planning team for advice.
If you have been left out of a Will and would like to know if you can make a claim under the Inheritance Act or challenge the Will in some other way, speak to our team for further information.
Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
An extract from the 2007 judgment of DJ Million appears in an annex to Ilott v Mitson  EWCA Civ 797
Ilott v Mitson and others  EWHC 3114 (Fam) – Eleanor King J
Ilott v Mitson and others  EWCA Civ 346 – Court of Appeal
Ilott v Mitson and others  EWHC 542 (Fam) – High Court/Parker J
Ilott v Mitson and others  EWCA Civ 797 – Court of Appeal
Ilott v The Blue Cross and others  UKSC 17 – Supreme Court
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