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Challenging your parents’ Will – has it just got easier?

A recent ruling may make it easier for adult children to challenge wills where they consider their parents have not made reasonable provision for them.

But it may also seriously undermine the right of people to leave money and assets to whom and whatever cause or charity they wish.

Not a penny for you…

Heather Ilott, 54, was awarded £164,000 from her estranged mother's estate, even though the mother expressly stated in her will that she did not want her child to receive a penny.

Instead, Melita Jackson left her £500,000 estate to animal charities when she died in 2004.

But after an eight-year court battle, and after successfully appealing that £50,000 awarded at an earlier hearing was insufficient, her only daughter was granted a third of that money on the grounds that her mother did not leave "reasonable provision" for her in the will.

The Court of Appeal ruled that Mrs Ilott would otherwise face a life of poverty because she was on benefits and could not afford to go on holiday or buy clothes for her children.

Could your will be overturned by a court?

The fact that Mrs Jackson had little connection to the charities to which she left her money played a part in the ruling, the judges said.

The ruling has implications for how people need to draw up their wills and it is possible that individuals would in future have to explain their reasons for leaving money to certain parties and demonstrate tangible connections to them.

It could also potentially make it easier for adult children who are disinherited by their parents to challenge their wills and gain a proportion of any estate.

Many believe that the ruling is saying that while you can still disinherit your children, you are going to have to explain why and show connections with those you are leaving the money to.

It also seems to be making it easier for adult children to claim for reasonable financial provision in wills and has made the gap wider for them to do this.

Heather Ilott's case, and those outlined below, clearly illustrate the importance of making a professionally prepared Will - not only to spot areas of potential dispute but to ensure that the people or organisations you want to benefit, actually do.

A battle of wills

  • Charities are not always the losers when pitted against relatives. A year ago, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of charities including Blue Cross, the Donkey Sanctuary and Chilterns Dog Rescue Society who had been left a £350,000 house by June Fairbrother - a will unsuccessfully contested by her nephew.
  • The RSPCA contested a Will all the way to the Court of Appeal after being left £370,000 by ship steward George Mason. He also left £66,000 to his brother, John, and £470,000 to lifelong friends, Norman and Patricia Sharp. Three judges found in favour of the charity, largely based on the amount of inheritance tax paid by John Mason and the Sharps, agreeing that the RSPCA was entitled to more money. John's share of the estate was cut from £66,000 to £28,820 and the Sharps' bequest went down from £470,000 to £271,000. The RSPCA ultimately got £650,000 instead of the original £370,000.
  • A nephew whose "curmudgeonly" aunt left her entire £300,000 fortune to her window cleaner was handed back his inheritance by a judge in March 2014. Although the judge ruled there was no evidence of "coercion" on the window cleaner's part, he also ruled that Mrs Spalding had "expressly agreed" that she would leave her house to nephew Cecil Bray when she died and it was right to hold her to her promise, given all her nephew had done for her.

For advice on Wills, please contact Wards Solicitors Probate, Wills and Mental Capacity Team or pop in to your local office