The daughter or the dogs’ home? Supreme Court rules on challenging a will
Mrs Heather Ilott was estranged from her mother Melita Jackson after she left home aged 17 in 1978 to live with her boyfriend whom she later married. They went on to have 5 children, but lived in straitened financial circumstances. Mrs Ilott’s father had died before she was born, and attempts at reconciliation during Mrs Jackson’s lifetime were short-lived and ultimately failed. When Mrs Jackson died Mrs Ilott sought to challenge her exclusion from the will.
As the outcome of this case had serious financial consequences for all UK charities it made the headlines as it worked its way through the judicial system. In 2007, District Judge Million ruled that Mrs Ilott was entitled to £50,000 of her mother’s estate for ‘reasonable financial provision’ under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This Act sets out circumstances and the classes of family members that may be awarded some financial provision who are otherwise excluded from a will, have not inherited due to the intestacy rules or have not been left as much as they require. District Judge Million found Mrs Jackson to be ‘capricious and unfair’ and that her decision to exclude her daughter from her estate was ‘harsh and unreasonable’.
The case then progressed to the Court of Appeal after Mrs Ilott challenged the award. In 2011, the Court of Appeal decided that sum of £50,000 was insufficient, increasing it to £143,000 to enable Mrs Ilott to purchase the house she lived in plus £20,000 for living costs.
This decision has now been overturned by the Supreme Court which has restored the original decision to award Mrs Ilott £50,000. The Supreme Court ruled that the sum of £50,000 was an award which met many of Mrs Ilott’s needs for maintenance.
It is arguable that the ruling by the Supreme Court attempts to strike the balance between respecting the deceased’s wishes, recognising that English law affords the freedom of individuals to dispose of their assets on death via a will in whatever manner they wish. At the same time the ruling provides enough of an award of financial provision to an otherwise excluded beneficiary.
However, it also highlights that even an express wish to exclude a beneficiary may not be upheld by the Courts where a beneficiary is challenging a will. This is likely to leave individuals questioning whether their assets will really end up going where they want on their death.
Our answer to this if you have any concerns, is to seek professional help and assistance. The last thing you want when you die is to have the family you leave behind fighting over the assets you worked so hard to build up. It is therefore important that you explain to your solicitor why you want assets to go (or not go) to your chosen beneficiaries and ensure that your solicitor makes detailed notes recording your reasons. With proper planning, it will still be possible to leave your assets to your chosen beneficiaries.
If you would like to draft your will, want to update an existing Will or seek advice or assistance with probate, please contact Jigna Vekaria on 0207 388 1658 or by email- firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jigna Vekaria, Solicitor