Smith Partnership monitors Landmark Inheritance case for over a decade!

We have been closely monitoring the impact on future inheritance claims, as a landmark legal battle concluded on 15th March 2017, resulting in three animal charities winning a case at the Supreme Court against a woman cut out of her mother’s Will.

Jak Ward from the Contentious Trust and Probate team said: “We have been extremely interested in a Judgment which was handed down this week by the Supreme Court on Heather Ilott’s battle against her late mother’s charitable beneficiaries under her will. The case has been on-going for the best part of a decade.”

“The appeal to the Supreme Court arose out of an original claim brought by Heather Ilott for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the 1975 Act”). The final judgement awarded Heather Ilott £50,000 from the estate.

“Her claim was against the Estate of her mother, from whom she had been estranged for some 20 years. Mrs Ilott left home (the home of her mother) as a teenager, and moved in with her boyfriend, who she subsequently married, and with whom she had five children.”

The Case Background

Mrs Ilott claimed that her mother’s last will did not make provision for her. Mrs Jackson (Mrs Ilott’s mother) made two wills, in 1984 and 2002 respectively, neither of which left any of her (significant) Estate to Mrs Ilott. In fact, Mrs Jackson left most of her £486,000 Estate to a number of different charities. Accordingly, Mrs Ilott had not expected to inherit anything from her late mother. An absence of expectation did not however prevent a claim being made.

At the first Hearing, the Court found that reasonable financial provision had not been made for Mrs Ilott, and awarded her £50,000 from the Estate. Appeals were made by both Mrs Ilott and the charities. It was only the appeal relating to quantum that really gathered momentum.

The Court of Appeal upwardly adjusted the award, awarding Mrs Ilott £143,000, which was essentially to buy the property within which she lived, together with an option to receive a further £20,000 more in further instalments. As Mrs Ilott was in receipt of benefits, the award was set in the manner that it was to avoid affecting Mrs Ilott’s benefits entitlement.

The Final Judgement

Jak Ward continued: “The Supreme Court heard the final appeal shortly before Christmas and on 15th March 2017, the Supreme Court handed down Judgment, which was on the charities’ appeal against the quantum award of £143,000. The Supreme Court confirmed the decision at first instance had been correct, and re-awarded Mrs Ilott £50,000.”

“The Court took the opportunity to remind claimants and practitioners that the factors taken into account are listed in Section 3 of the 1975 Act. Where the applicant is not a husband/wife or partner of the deceased, reasonable financial provision is limited to what would be reasonable for the person to receive for maintenance only.

“Maintenance cannot extend to anything and everything, but is not limited to means that are only strictly necessary. The level of maintenance is therefore very flexible, and the courts have an unfettered discretion in making awards.”

“Each case can turn on its own facts, and a different judge may come to a different conclusion on a different day having heard the same case. With this the first time that such a case has reached the highest court in our system, I think that everyone was hoping that a maintenance test would be set down by the Court. The Court however refused to fix a standard of reasonable provision. All of the factors in Section 3 must be considered, and their weight applied according to the case as the court sees it.”

Jak Ward concluded: “Even though this case reduced the amount Heather Ilott received, it should not deter adult children making a claim. If the Section 3 criteria fits, and their maintenance needs have not been provided for, then they have every right to pursue a claim. Whilst Mrs Ilott may be disappointed with the outcome, it must not be forgotten that she was awarded £50,000 at first instance. If she had have accepted that victory at the outset, the heartache of the legal battle that ensued would have been avoided.”

If you need any advice regarding Wills please call the Contentious Trusts and Probate team at Smith Partnership on 0330 123 1229.