Where there’s a Will…is there a way?
The Court of Appeal case of Ilott v Mitson  EWCA Civ 797 clarifies rules on reasonable provisions in Wills for adult children, in this instance an estranged daughter who claimed that her mother’s Will failed to make reasonable financial provision for her.
Melita Jackson died on 10 July 2004 leaving a net estate of £486,000. Mrs Jackson left a Will in which, subject to a legacy of £5,000 in favour of the BBC Benevolent Fund, she left her entire estate to be divided between The Blue Cross, the RSPB and the RSPCA. The deceased’s Will made no provision for her only child, Heather Ilott. From the age of 17 the latter had become estranged from the deceased, a rift having arisen due to the deceased's disagreements with her daughter’s lifestyle. Mrs Ilott now 54 was married with five children, had a modest income and a very basic standard of living.
Proceedings commenced in 2007 when Mrs Ilott took proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Act”) seeking a share of the estate. The district judge held that the failure to make any provision for Mrs Ilott produced an unreasonable result having regard to Mrs Ilott’s straitened circumstances. The district judge awarded her £50,000 being what he considered to be reasonable maintenance in all the circumstances. A number of appeals ensued culminating in the Court of Appeal’s decision this week.
The appeal judges ruled that Mrs Ilott was not given a reasonable provision from the estate for her future maintenance as she was on benefits and had no pension. The judges substituted an award of £143,000 required for Mrs Ilott to purchase the property where she and her husband currently lived and awarded her £20,000 in cash to provide her with a small immediate amount of additional income. One focus of their decision was the lack of connectivity between Mrs Jackson and her beneficiaries.
This is a landmark ruling by the Court of Appeal which could make it easier for adult children to challenge Wills if they do not believe their parents have left them a reasonable provision. It also raises questions regarding parental obligation and whether adult children should be provided for. Interestingly, much of continental Europe insists on a family’s right to inherit.
The case is however very much fact specific and future cases should be assessed on their own facts and merits. A key factor here is that Mrs Jackson had little connection with the charities to which she left her estate rather than the fact she left side letters with her Will explaining why she had decided to leave nothing to her daughter, which may seem unduly harsh. It also seems there was sympathy for Mrs Ilott, who was on benefits and had very limited means despite acknowledging that Mrs Ilott was capable of work but decided not to in order to care for her children, and once they had grown up, her home.
This case is not authority for the fact that you cannot write your Will as you wish. But it seems that if you want to go as far as disinheriting your only child, then it may be harder to do so. In future, it would seem sensible for those drafting Wills to ensure that they document in detail the reason why certain individuals are not considered in a Will and, moreover, explain why another, in this case, a charity, should benefit instead. This will include setting out what connection the person making the Will has to the seemingly unconnected beneficiary.
This judgment will also be a cause for concern for charities who may worry that it will encourage legal challenges from adult children who, for whatever reason, have been left out of their parents’ Will. However the story is not necessarily over yet. It is reported that the charities are giving careful consideration on whether or not to appeal to the Supreme Court.
This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.