Without so much as pausing for breath after the ‘Brexit Challenge’, the Supreme Court judges heard an appeal case yesterday which could have wide implications for all Trusts, Estates and Contested Probate claims.
The case concerns the last will and testament of Melita Jackson, who died in 2004. Her will, which was disputed by her estranged daughter Heather Illot, left her entire estate, totalling £500,000 to various animal charities but excluded her daughter, Mrs Illot, from any inheritance at all.
Mrs Illot left home at 17 to elope with her boyfriend, now her husband, Mr Illot. It's fair to say that her mother did not agree with her daughter’s decision and this lead to a bitter falling out between the two of them. Because of this disagreement, Mrs Jackson disinherited her daughter in favour of four animal charities.
After Mrs Jackson died, Mrs Illot brought a claim against her mother’s will. She did this under the Inheritance Act 1975. This act allows disappointed beneficiaries to bring a claim against a will if they think they have not been provided with reasonable financial provision.
When Mrs Illot made her claim, she was in her fifties and living in rented accommodation. She had five children, was on benefits and had no pension. She claimed that by cutting her out entirely, her mother’s will had not made reasonable financial provision. The High Court agreed and Mrs Illot successfully claimed £50,000.
The charities named in the will appealed this decision. They claimed that the award was excessive. Mrs Illot also appealed the decision. She claimed that the £50,000 award was not enough. The Court of Appeal agreed with Mrs Illot. She was awarded £143,000 to buy the rented property she was living in and a further £20,000 as additional income. The award was structured so that Mrs Illot could continue to receive her benefits.
Yesterday the charities named in Mrs Jackson's will took their appeal to the Supreme Court. This is the highest court in England and Wales. The charities are asking the Supreme Court to decide if the Court of Appeal was wrong to increase the award given to Mrs Illot.
This case does beg the question whether when someone makes their will, should that will be beyond the reach of the court? The media has been discussing this very issue, prompted by this case.
If the Supreme Court upholds the decision made by the Court of Appeal, it will probably lead to more claims being made by adult children who have been disinherited by their parents, who want to challenge the will under The Inheritance Act 1975, especially when their relationship with the person who died has completely broken down.
It will also mean that there is more uncertainty around making a will and whether you can guarantee that it will be administered according to your wishes.
But if the Supreme Court decides in favour of the charities, this will support the views of those who think that the wishes of someone who dies and their will should be unimpeachable, no matter how eccentric they are.
Meade King LLP has a specialist Trusts and Estates Department who can assist you in preparing a will to help prevent future disputes alternatively our Dispute Resolution team can also discuss whether you have grounds to validly challenge a will.