Amy Read, Associate Solicitor, at WBW Solicitors reports on a recent case where a daughter cut out of her mother’s Will has been awarded £163,000 in what could prove to be a landmark ruling. This case concerns a charity bequest and an Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the 1975 Act”) claim by an estranged only child.

Melita Jackson (“Mrs Jackson”) died on 10 July 2004 leaving her £486,000 estate to animal charities. Mrs Jackson had no connection with the charities, nor any particular love of animals, but she nonetheless left her entire estate to them, expressly stating that her daughter was to receive nothing.

In 2007 the daughter, Heather Ilott (“Mrs Ilott”), brought proceedings under the 1975 Act seeking a share of her mother’s estate.   After a Court battle lasting over 8 years, the Court of Appeal granted Mrs Ilott a third of the estate on the grounds that she had not been given “reasonable financial provision” and would face poverty if she was not provided for.

At 17, Mrs Ilott, now 54, eloped with her boyfriend, much to the disapproval of her mother. The resultant fallout was the primary reason why Mrs Jackson decided she did not wish her daughter to receive a penny of her estate.

Over the years there had been attempts at reconciliation, all of which were said to have been “consistently undermined” by Mrs Jackson. The last attempt at reconciliation failed because Mrs Jackson took offence to her fifth grandchild being given the name of her paternal grandmother, who Mrs Jackson did not like. The Court described Mrs Jackson as “unreasonable, capricious and harsh” to her child.

Mrs Ilott married her childhood sweetheart 5 years after they eloped and they went on to have 5 children. Mr and Mrs Ilott are still together, 37 years later, living on the breadline in their housing association home in Ware, Hertfordshire. The Court said that Mrs Ilott’s resources “are at such a basic level that they outweigh the importance that would normally be attached to the fact that she is an adult child who has been living independently for so many years”.

The award means that Mrs Ilott will be able to purchase her housing association home, under the right to buy scheme, with £20,000 left over to supplement her state benefits going forward.

The ruling will no doubt cause huge controversy with some claiming that our so-called testamentary freedom has been greatly diminished and others claiming that this is a welcomed broadening of the rights of unfairly disinherited children. Whatever people’s opinion are on the ruling, the clear message is that you will have to have a ‘good reason’ to exclude your children and will need to be able to explain what connections you have to organisations or people that you benefit in their place.

Whether you are an adult child who feels you have not been adequately provided for under your parents Will, a beneficiary facing a claim by a disappointed claimant to the estate, or you are a parent wishing to make a Will excluding your child, the ruling in the case of Ilott v Mitson will significantly impact upon you.

WBW has a team of lawyers who specialise in Will and inheritance disputes. Whether you wish to bring a claim, defend a claim or make a new Will which limits the interest of your children WBW’s Private Client team can advise you how best to proceed. Contact Amy’s assistant, Jacqui Neate, on 01626 202366 or jacquineate@wbw.co.uk to arrange a free initial consultation.