Supreme court judgement provides important guidance on a person's right to exclude children from their will

Ilott v Mitson now Ilott v The Blue Cross and others                                             

 

A recent claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 was considered for the first time by the Supreme Court and this week judgement was handed down.  This provides lawyers with useful guidance on how such claims will be dealt with in the future by the Courts.

 

The details of the claim have been widely publicised in the press:  the deceased, having rejected her 17 year old daughter many years ago when she moved in with her boyfriend of whom she disapproved, left nothing to her in her Will.  The daughter made a claim under the 1975 Act and was awarded £50,000 at first instance by the district judge.  On appeal the award was increased to provide her with £143,000 to enable her to buy the house she lived in and a further £20,000 in instalments.  The sole beneficiaries to the deceased’s estate were three charities and they appealed to the Supreme Court.  The panel of judges rejected the Court of Appeal’s view that the district judge had made an error in assessing the case and reinstated his original award of £50,000 to the deceased’s daughter.

 

As always this case turned on its own particular facts.  The daughter had married the boyfriend with whom she went on to have 5 children.  She had made numerous attempts to reconcile with her mother but all such attempts failed, for which they blamed each other.  The Claimant lives on state benefits with her family.  The deceased left clear instructions that any claim by her daughter should be strenuously fought at Court. The deceased had no connection during her life-time with the three charities she benefited in her Will.

 

However, important guidance emerges in relation to 1975 Act claims by a non-spouse or civil-partner:

 

·       Courts place a great significance on testamentary freedom, especially where clear instructions are left by the testator;

 

·       The beneficiaries under the Will do not have to justify their “claim” by need or expectation;

 

·       The court is very aware that an award under the 1975 Act is made at the detriment of other beneficiaries;

 

·       The Courts will consider the following factors when making an award under the Act:

  A long estrangement;

  The testator’s wishes & their reasonableness or otherwise;

  Both a moral claim and a need for maintenance are required for a claim to succeed;

  Reasonable financial provision may include housing but not by way of a capital sum but rather by way of a life interest (the benefit reverting to the original beneficiaries on the Claimant’s death);

  “maintenance” is not limited to subsistence and is fairly broad but does not extend to all the Claimant believes they should have.

 

This case considered crucial subjects such as a person’s financial responsibility towards their children, their ability to exclude those children in favour of unrelated, unconnected entities, the interaction between the state and family obligations and above all a person’s right to leave their estate as they wish.

 

Please contact Louisa Calligas of this firm if you are concerned about your own Will being vulnerable to challenge or you feel you may have a claim against an estate under the 1975 Act.

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