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Disinherited daughter awarded £164,000 inheritance

The financial position of the daughter and the reason for the disinheritance proved pivotal in the ruling

28 July 2015

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The Court of Appeal has awarded a woman who was specifically left out of her mother's will a £164,000 inheritance award.

Heather Ilott, 54, has succeeded in her challenge of her mother's will, Melita Jackson, who died in 2004 and left her estate worth nearly £500,000 to three animal charities.

Mrs Ilott's challenege was based on the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975; the court found that her mother had not left her 'reasonable provision' and awarded her a third of the estate.

Of particular interest is that fact that Mrs Jackson had written a letter to explain why she had disinherited her daughter, which until this ruling, was considered sufficient to give effect to the testator's wishes, whatever they may be.

As such the ruling is being mooted as a landmark case which will encourage and empower disinherited beneficiaries to challenge a will.

However James Lister, an associate at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, has said that although this ruling should be noted, it will not be so easily applied across the scale.

'While this judgment will be interpreted as a blow to testamentary freedom, it should be remembered that this is a very fact specific case,' he said.

'It will be of limited application to other claims where involving disputes between members of the same family, as distinct from disputes involving charity beneficiaries. The Court were clear that the position of the charitable beneficiaries did count against them here, as they had no direct financial need whereas Mrs Ilott plainly did.'

Background

Heather Ilot fell out with her mother in 1978 when she left home to live with her boyfriend, who would go on to become her husband.

After multiple attempts at reconciliation had failed, Mrs Jackson specifically left her daughter out of her will, left her entire estate to the RSPCA, RSPB, Blue Cross Charities, and wrote a letter explaining the reason for her decision.

Mrs Ilot challenged the will under the 'reasonable provision' rule contained in the Inheritance Act 1975.

A district judge awarded her £50,000 in 2011. She failed in her challenged for a bigger award at the High Court last year, but has now succeeded at the Court of Appeal.

Mrs Ilot has five children, two of whom are aged under 18 and she is dependent on state benefits. She does not have a pension and is likely to continue to depend on the state pension when she reaches retirement age.

Lady Justice Arden therefore decided to award her £164,000 to buy her housing association home, along with a £20,000 cash settlement. She said that her mother had been 'unreasonable, capricious and harsh'.

Paul Myers, a lawyer at Irwin Mitchell specialising in will disputes, believes that Mrs Ilot was successful because her mother's reasons for disinheriting her were simply not strong enough.

'This ruling means people can still disinherit their children but they will have to have a good reason why, and be able to explain what connects them to the people or organisations that they have included in their wills instead,' he noted.

'This means that adult children who have been left out of wills may find it easier to challenge them if they have not been left a reasonable provision. It provides further clarity to the Inheritance Act 1975.'

He continued: 'The increase in the amount the court has awarded to Mrs Ilott sends out a message about how important the judges feel about this issue. It's also interesting that they have found a way to award her a significant sum without affecting her benefits.'

James Aspden of Wilsons, who represented the three charities in the case, said it was a 'worrying decision for anyone who values having the freedom to choose who will receive their property when they die'.

 

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Wills, Trusts & Probate