The Supreme Court has overturned a six figure sum awarded to a woman who was cut out of her mother’s will after three charities appealed the decision.
It is a significant judgment as it means that adult children may not be able to make such large claims against their parents’ estates if they are disinherited in the future.
Life of poverty
Arguing that her mother had not made reasonable financial provision for her, Heather Ilott was awarded more than £160,000 by the Court of Appeal in 2015 after Melita Jackson left the majority of her £486,000 estate to three animal charities.
This tripled the original award of £50,000 and was increased to allow Mrs Ilott to buy her housing association home. It was decided she would otherwise face a life of poverty living on state benefits and with five children to support.
But now a panel of seven Supreme Court judges has restored the order made by a district judge in 2007 that the sum awarded should indeed be £50,000.
The main beneficiaries in Melita Jackson’s will, the Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), all argued that the appeal judges “fell into error” when deciding to increase the maintenance pay out from £50,000.
Mrs Ilott had made her initial application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 which gives the child of a deceased parent the right to apply for an order if a will does not make reasonable provision for their maintenance.
It is the first time an appeal under this act has reached the Supreme Court.
Claims that Heather Ilott could bring
The Court confirmed that Mrs Ilott could bring a claim for maintenance and that a broad brush approach by a district judge would be the best way of dealing with such claims.
The Court also stated that an assessment of what the appropriate standard might be could be influenced by any considerations the judge is ordered to look at – in other words, it is highly discretionary.
Questions for the future
In his judgement Lord Hughes said not enough weight had been given to Mrs Jackson’s wishes to leave her money to her chosen charities or the good works they could carry out with her bequests.
Lawyers acting on Mrs Ilott’s behalf said: “Some of the judges have found that the current law is unsatisfactory and this will no doubt raise broader questions in the future.”
Thinking of bringing a claim as an adult descendant?
This case has helped to clarify the law in this area, confirmed that claims can be brought and given helpful indications of the sort of considerations that should be looked at when bringing a claim.
This will help your solicitor give you the best advice possible as to the kind of circumstances likely to give rise to a potential claim as well as advise you on the award they think it is probable you will receive if you bring a claim.
Wards have a dedicated, award winning team who specialise in these sorts of claims. If you have any queries on this area of law then please contact Elizabeth Fry at email@example.com in the first instance.