...disputing a will
A recent Supreme Court case has put a Will dispute into the public eye as seven supreme justices passed a definitive ruling on a 10-year court battle between three animal charities and a disinherited daughter.
The dispute focused on the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which allows an application to be made for funds from an immediate family member’s estate after they pass away if their will does not make reasonable financial provisions to the applicant.
This story’s timeline dates back to 1978 when a mother and daughter became estranged and centres on the mother’s estate when she died in 2004. Detailing the case, Luke Corcoran – Solicitor in Simpson Millar’s Commercial department – explains the implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Melita Jackson wrote her daughter, Heather Ilott, out of her Will after they became estranged and decided to leave most of her £486,000 estate to three animal charities when she passed away.
It is believed that the relationship broke down in 1978, when Mrs Jackson disapproved of her daughter’s decision to leave the family home at 17 to live with her boyfriend, Nicholas Ilott, who would became her husband.
Despite attempts to reconcile the relationship Mrs Jackson left her only daughter out of her Will, opting instead to gift her fortune to The Blue Cross, the RSPB and the RSPCA.
Three years after her mother’s passing, Mrs Ilott challenged her Will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and was awarded £50,000 by a district judge.
This award came despite Mrs Jackson allegedly informing her executors to block any attempts from Mrs Ilott to gain any of her estate.
During a follow up hearing at the Court of Appeal judges ruled that the initial award of £50,000 held “identifiable errors of principle” and awarded Mrs Ilott a substantially higher sum of £160,000.
It was claimed that to make a fair provision to Mrs Ilott she should be able to buy the Housing Association home that she was renting and have a £20,000 sum to be paid in one or more instalments for living costs.
The latest instalment of the saga has seen the appeal judges’ decision reversed by the highest court in the UK, as seven supreme justices ruled in the Supreme Court that the £50,000 award passed by the initial district judge was fair and correct.
Disputing a Will
Responding to the Supreme Court ruling the three animal charities, which will now benefit from the £113,000 difference in awards said in a joint statement:
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has given welcome reassurance that – save in limited and specific circumstances – the wishes recorded in a person’s will must be respected.”
“Blue Cross, RSPCA and RSPB and the charitable sector as a whole, rely on generous gifts left in wills, without which much of their valuable work could not be done.”
“This judgment will allow us to continue to honour the wishes of individuals who choose to remember charities in their will.”
While the ruling has been hailed as a victory for the charities, Luke notes that it is important to remember that the ruling clarifies a point of law regarding the ability to contest a Will:
“The Supreme Court decision has been hailed as a victory by the three charities involved, despite the fact that Mrs Ilott has still been successful in her application for funds from her deceased mother’s estate, it’s just that her final award of £50,000 is significantly reduced from the £160,000 awarded by appeal judges.”
“Throughout this saga the judges have disagreed on the actual amount that should be awarded to Mrs Ilott but none have denied that it was reasonable for her to seek some funds from her mother’s estate, probably because her own financial position is precarious.”
“This precarious financial position meant that Mrs Ilott’s application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act held weight as her mother did not ensure proper financial provision for an immediate family member in need at the time of writing her Will, which was drafted two years before her death.”
“The case has garnered a lot of media attention due to the large sums involved and the perceived sense of injustice felt by both sides of the argument however the real, underlying point is that those who have been disinherited from a Will can bring a claim under the Inheritance Act, they just may not receive the huge sums passed by the appeal judges in this instance.”
Written by Luke Corcoran.
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