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Appeal judges back daughter in provision battle

11 April 2011

Three charities are considering an appeal after the Court of Appeal backed an only daughter’s claim to a share of her mother’s estate.

Melita Jackson, who died in 2004 aged 70, left the bulk of her estate worth £486,000 to The Blue Cross, the RSPB and RSPCA. She left nothing to her only daughter, Heather Ilott, and attached a letter to her executors explaining that the relationship had broken down.

Ilott, aged 50, has five children and lives mainly on benefits. She was awarded £50,000 by the county court under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, but appealed to the High Court for a bigger award.

Mrs Justice Eleanor King dismissed her claim completely but Ilott successfully challenged the ruling at the Court of Appeal.

James Aspden, partner at Wilsons in Salisbury, acted for the three charities and said they were considering an appeal to the Supreme Court. He said the Court of Appeal’s ruling lacked “practical guidance and clarity”.

Aspden described it as “a landmark in scrapping previous guidance, but providing nothing in its place”.

“What the charities fear as a result of this and what I fear is that we will see more of these claims, which will be more difficult to settle in the absence of good, clear guidance,” he added.

John M Collins at Zenith Chambers in Leeds acted for Ilott on a pro bono basis after her legal aid was withdrawn.

He denied that the Court of Appeal had changed the law, saying that claimants had to have a “real need for maintenance” and the question of whether there was a moral obligation was not a conclusive factor, but simply one of the factors to be taken into account.

“This was a special case on the facts,” he said. “It concerned an only daughter who had tried to obtain a reconciliation with her mother and where she really needed financial provision.

“Charity begins at home. It should extend to others, but it begins at home. Your first duty is to your family.”

Giving the leading judgment in Ilott v Mitson and others [2011] EWCA Civ 346, Lord Justice Wall, president of the Family Division, said the case raised “in stark form” the approach which should be adopted when an adult child claimed against a deceased parent.

Wall LJ said the first stage was a “value judgment”, whether or not the deceased’s dispositions made reasonable financial provision for the plaintiff under the Act.

He said this was “very much a matter” for the first instance tribunal.

Wall LJ said the case law made it clear that there was no requirement for the deceased to owe the child a “moral obligation”.

He allowed the appeal and directed that the appellant’s appeal on quantum should be heard by a different High Court judge.

Lady Justice Arden said the Law Commission’s consultation paper on reform of the law in this area “suggests that the present law is not causing problems in practice”.

She said that previously there was an age limit of 21 on the age of the children who could claim under the act.

“The removal of these restrictions makes it clear that parliament intended that an adult child should be able to bring a claim even if it was possible for him or her to subsist without making a claim on the estate.

She allowed the appeal. Lady Justice Black agreed.

Categorised in:

Clinical negligence Wills, Trusts & Probate