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Could your Will be ignored? An update following the Supreme Court decision on the case of Ilott v Mitson

We previously reported on a case in which Heather Ilott, a 54-year-old mother of five living in Hertfordshire, was awarded £164,000 from her mother’s estate by the Court of Appeal. The decision followed a decade of legal battles between Mrs Ilott and three charities regarding the distribution of the estate.

Melita Jackson, Mrs Ilott’s mother, died in 2004 aged 70 and left the entirety of her £500,000 estate to three animal charities – The Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).  Mrs Jackson left nothing to her daughter, having never forgiven her for eloping with her boyfriend when she was just 17.  Mrs Jackson explicitly stated in her Will that she did not want her daughter to inherit any money from her estate and wrote a letter to her solicitor to this effect.

In 2007, the County Court awarded Mrs Ilott £50,000 from the estate on the grounds that her mother should have provided reasonable financial provision for her daughter in her Will, despite her mother’s clear intention that her daughter should not inherit from the estate.

The Court of Appeal  later decided that this sum was insufficient and senior judges awarded Mrs Ilott the increased sum of £164,000, roughly one-third of Mrs Jackson’s entire estate.  Mrs Jackson’s behaviour in disinheriting her only child was described by one judge in the Court of Appeal  as ‘unreasonable, capricious and harsh’.

The three charities named in Mrs Jackson’s Will challenged the Court of Appeal’s decision in the Supreme Court on the basis that a person making a Will should be free to choose who should benefit from their estate.  As a result of this challenge by the three charities, the Supreme Court have overturned the ruling by the Court of Appeal awarding Mrs Ilott £164,000, and have reverted to the original ruling by the County Court awarding Mrs Ilott £50,000 from the estate.

Claims for reasonable financial provision from an estate are made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.  The legal position with claims made under this Act had been made somewhat unclear following the Court of Appeal’s prior decision to award Mrs Ilott £164,000 from the estate.  Legal experts say that today’s Supreme Court ruling has clarified the legal standpoint.  The Supreme Court  decision makes clear that a person making a Will is free to decide who the beneficiaries of their estate should be.

It is important to seek expert advice when making a new Will. Whether you want advice on excluding a member of your family from your Will or have more general questions regarding Wills, the administration of an estate or inheritance tax planning, contact our Wills, Trusts and Probate team for specialist advice on 0161 926 9969 or by e-mail hello@mlplaw.co.uk