Three animal charities have won an appeal at the Supreme Court against a daughter cut out of her mother's Will. The Supreme Court is the highest appeal court in the UK.
Mrs Ilott, who had been estranged from her late mother, Mrs Jackson for many years, was excluded from her mother's Will. Mrs Jackson left most of her estate, worth approx. £486,000, to three animal charities.
Mrs Illot made a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 claiming her mother had not made "reasonable financial provision" for her. The Act gives certain individuals, such as the immediate family of the deceased, or their partner if they were living together as husband and wife (or as civil partners), the right to make an application to the court for an order if the deceased's Will does not make reasonable provision for them.
Before Mrs Jackson's death in 2004, she wrote a letter to her lawyers stating "I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate. I have made it clear to my daughter... that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die." Mrs Jackson explicitly instructed the Executors of her Will to fight any claim Mrs Ilott might make after her death.
At first instance, District Judge Million found that Mrs Jackson had failed to make reasonable financial provision for her daughter and awarded Mrs IIott the sum of £50,000. Mrs Ilott appealed against the amount of the awarded and the three animal charities cross-appealed contending that the claim should have been dismissed.
The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal made by Mrs Illot and awarded her a lump sum of £143,000 (representing the cost of buying her house under the right-to-buy scheme), reasonable expenses of purchasing the property and an optional £20,000 so Mrs IIott could continue to claim state benefits if she chose to do so. The three animal charities were given permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has today handed down its judgment and has overturned the Court of Appeal's decision awarding Mrs Ilott the original sum of £50,000 effectively restoring the original decision made by the District Judge.
The Supreme Court that held the Court of Appeal failed to give sufficient weight to Mrs Jackson's very clear wishes that the three animal charities were the chosen beneficiaries and to the very long estrangement between Mrs IIott and Mrs Jackson.
Lady Hale (with whom Lord Kerr and Lord Wilson JJSC agreed) highlighted the problem with the present law stating "that it gives us virtually no help in deciding how to evaluate these or balance them with other claims on the estate." Such limited guidance causes legal uncertainty and cases are subject to a range of opinions which might be formed by judges hearing 1975 Act claims. Such high level judicial criticism may lead to a change in the law in the near future.
Lady Hale continued by highlighting the "unsatisfactory state of the present law, giving as it does no guidance as to the factors to be taken into account in deciding whether an adult child is deserving or undeserving of reasonable maintenance".
We can also advise on making or defending claims made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. For more information and guidance, please contact Michael Callaghan on 01245 228136 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.