Final Judgment on Contested Will Claim

On 17 January 2017, we highlighted the case of Ilott –v- Mitson which was the first case of its kind to reach the Supreme Court: please follow the link. On 15 March 2017, the Supreme Court delivered its judgement on what constitutes “reasonable financial provision” and “maintenance” under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 (the “Act”). This is important reading for anyone contemplating a claim under the Act.

Background

Mrs Ilott, the only child of Mrs and Mrs Jackson, had been estranged from her mother for several years. Mrs Jackson had made Wills in 1984 and 2002 and, on each occasion, she left a “letter of wishes” making clear that she did not want her daughter to inherit any of her estate. Instead, she named a number of charities as her beneficiaries. Mrs Jackson had notified her daughter of her wishes.

Following Mrs Jackson’s death in 2004, Mrs Ilott brought a claim challenging her mother’s Will on the basis that it did not make reasonable financial provision for her maintenance under the Act.

What did the Courts decide?

At first instance, the High Court agreed with Mrs Ilott and awarded her the sum of £50,000 out of an estate worth approximately £486,000. Mrs Ilott was not satisfied with this and so appealed the judgement claiming she was entitled to half of her mother’s estate.

The Court of Appeal did not accept Mrs Ilott’s claim for half the estate but did increase her award to £143,000 so that she could buy the house that she lived in, and gave her the option of receiving a further £20,000 in one or two instalments.
The charities appealed to the Supreme Court which, after much deliberation, reinstated the original decision of the High Court.

What lessons can we learn from this?

Each case will always turn on its own facts but this case reinforces the importance of testamentary freedom which allows individuals to decide how and to whom they will bequeath their assets. The judgement made clear that the relationship between the person bringing a claim under the Act and the deceased is a relevant and important factor in deciding whether or not any claim will be successful. Furthermore, it made clear that the key question the courts need to ask in these cases is whether or not the deceased provided reasonable financial provision for the applicant, not whether the deceased had acted reasonably or not.

In the meantime, individuals should not be dissuaded from preparing their Wills (please follow the link to our Will Preparation page).  These remain the best way of ensuring that your wishes are carried out following your death and, as long as they are properly drafted and executed, disgruntled beneficiaries will find it difficult to bring successful claims. It is impossible to avoid the risk of any litigation arising but we are able to help you minimise those risks by providing professional legal advice.

 

If you have any questions about Contentious Probate and Will Preparation please do not hesitate to contact Debbie Sadler at d.sadler@hewetts.co.uk or on 0118 957 5337.

Published on 07/04/2017

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