The Court of Appeal has made what the media have called a ‘landmark’ decision in relation to disputed wills (Ilott v Mitson & Others  EWCA Civ 797)
Heather Ilott was an only child, and her father died whilst she was young. She decided to elope in order to marry an older man, for which her mother Melita never forgave her. When Melita died she left her entire estate (worth almost £500,000) to the RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross animal charities.
Heather Ilott had very limited financial means, and had five children. She brought a claim against her mother’s Estate on the basis that it failed to make reasonable financial provision for her future maintenance.
The claim was brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This allows certain categories of people to bring a claim against an estate where the will (or, if there is no will, the intestacy) does not make reasonable financial provision for that person.
The Court of Appeal held that Melita Jackson’s will did not provide reasonable financial provision for Heather Ilott’s future maintenance.
The Court decided that Heather Ilott’s current financial position, and the fact that her mother had no particular connection to the charities during her lifetime, meant that it would be appropriate to make an award to her. The Court awarded the sum of £143,000 to allow Heather Ilott to buy the home in which she lived at the time of the hearing, which was owned by a housing association, and a further £20,000 as additional income.
Many are questioning whether the judgment means that people can no longer give their estate to whomever they like. That is not quite correct.
It is entirely possible that anyone who is left out of a will, or have not received as much as they expected, could bring a claim for reasonable financial provision from the estate. Whether any such claim would be successful depends upon the facts of each case. For example, had Mrs Ilott been wealthy then her claim would almost certainly have failed. It is certainly not the case that testators must now leave their estate to certain individuals; the general principle remains that people can give their estate to whomever they wish.
For anyone considering making a will which disinherits a family member or gives them less than they might be expecting, it is very important that legal advice is sought. By doing so, a properly prepared will can be made and advice can be given as to both the risks of a claim being made against the estate and any steps that could be taken to reduce those risks.
For those who are disappointed by the content of a will, the case serves a useful reminder that, depending upon the facts, it may be possible to make a claim against the estate.