Charities win legal battle with woman excluded from mother's will

Will, pen and bookletThe Supreme Court has overturned a Court of Appeal decision to award a woman £163,000 from her late mother’s estate. Instead, the bulk of the money will go to three animal charities.

Melita Jackson, who died in 2004, left her entire estate to the three charities, explaining in a letter that she had disinherited her only daughter, Heather Ilott, because she had left the family home in 1978 to live with a boyfriend of whom Mrs Jackson did not approve, and the relationship never recovered.

However, Mrs Ilott appealed under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for ‘reasonable financial provision’ from the estate. A district judge awarded Mrs Ilott £50,000 from the estate and the Court of Appeal increased the award to £163,000, Lady Justice Arden holding that Mrs Jackson was ‘unreasonable, capricious and harsh’ in excluding her daughter from her will.

The Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals successfully argued that the Court of Appeal had erred in making the £163,000 award. This means that Mrs Ilott is now only entitled to the original £50,000 award.

Gaby Hardwicke Private Client Services Partner Richard Ostle commented: “This is the first time that an appeal under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, has reached the highest appellate level, and the Supreme Court has now given guidance on the correct approach to an application for reasonable financial provision.  Although the level of the payment has been reduced on appeal, the fact remains that in this case the court considered it reasonable that an adult child who had been estranged from her mother for many years should still be awarded a substantial payment from the estate.

“Anyone who has made a will excluding a child from benefiting, or who is considering disinheriting a child, or treating them less favourably than other children, would be well advised to review their will in light of this judgement.”

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Posted: 21 March 2017

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