Supreme Court decides in favour of charities against Daughter Claimant

The case of Ilott v Mitson has received a large amount of publicity in the last couple of years, and deservedly so. It concerns an area of the law which is increasingly used, some say out of context, and involves a story which could be part of a soap opera plot.

First, the relevant law is The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This Act, amongst other things, allows disinherited family members to apply to the Court for an Order that they should benefit after all from the Estate, despite the intentions of the deceased.

Secondly, the facts of this case revolve around a daughter, Mrs Ilott in true Eastenders style, marrying a partner of whom her mother, Mrs Jackson, did not approve. That led to mother and daughter becoming estranged, and years later, to Mrs Illott being left out of Mrs Jackson’s Will. Instead, Mrs Jackson left her significant estate to charity, and Mrs Ilott made a claim for financial provision under the Act.

The Act contains a large number of factors and guidelines for the Court to consider when deciding how much a claimant should be entitled to. The court’s intention would normally be to look at the needs of a son or daughter and provide for a reasonable sum for their future needs.

Here, Mrs Ilott had found herself modest circumstances, and told the Court all about her financial requirements. She was awarded £50,000.00 out of the much larger estate. The fact that Mrs Ilott had in fact been estranged for years from her mother and that there had been no reconciliation, was a factor in that decision.

Mrs Ilott considered that to be inadequate. She also pointed out that she would lose out on state benefits if that was the extent of the sum awarded. She appealed to the Court of Appeal who discounted the importance of the estrangement and increased the sum awarded to a total of £163,000.00 to allow for Mrs Ilott to purchase the Housing Association property in which she was living.

The charities who were named in Mrs Jackson’s will, and who would otherwise have inherited the extra money then appealed to the Supreme Court, and the highest court in the land has decided in favour of the charities and restored the original award of £50,000.00.

The seven Judges found that the original judge had been entitled to take a broad brush approach to the task of assessing an amount, and they emphasised the importance of limiting awards to adult children only to “maintenance”, which of course would not in this case involve an amount sufficient to purchase property outright.

“Maintenance” does not mean providing everything the applicant reasonably needs, and estrangement was a factor which was considered.

The Supreme Court said that the case raises “profound questions” about this area of law, balancing the rights of will makers with those of estranged adult descendants.

Please contact Pam Deol on 0121 227 3850 or Tim Lawrence on 01905 677055 with any enquiries.

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