Court rules against a challenge to inheritance in the Ilott case
The Supreme Court has today handed down their judgment in the case Ilott v The Blue Cross and Others (previous incarnations known as Ilott v Mitson)
This case is well known and concerned a mother and daughter who had been estranged for many years. When the mother died she left her estate worth almost £500,000 to three charities with which she had no prior connection.
The daughter, who was living on benefits, successfully applied for "reasonable financial provision" from her mother's estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 ("the 1975 Act"). She was awarded £50,000 and appealed on the basis that the award was too low and deprived her of means tested benefits. The Court of Appeal awarded her over £160,000. The charities challenged the increase and today the original award of £50,000 was reinstated by the Supreme Court on the basis that the 1975 Act limits awards to "maintenance", rather than providing all of the applicant's reasonable needs.
Comment and guidance
We are fairly comfortable in this country with our concept of testamentary freedom: a principle in English law that we can choose to whom our estate should pass when we die. This is, however, subject to the 1975 Act which allows certain categories of disappointed parties to claim "reasonable financial provision" if not made under the Will or intestacy. These categories include "a child of the deceased", although prior to the Ilott case this was thought to usually exclude claims by adult children not financially dependent on the deceased.
Despite today's judgment, the Ilott case still extends the application of the 1975 Act and arguably waters down the principle of testamentary freedom.
It is hoped that this will be limited to the facts of this particular case i.e. the daughter is of very low means and the provisions of the Will were seemingly capricious and spiteful, benefiting charities with which the deceased had no connection or history of giving.
However, if you are concerned about a potential claim against your estate by a disappointed party following your death, you still need to seek advice and there are no guarantees. Ilott has, despite today's ruling, created more uncertainty in this area and potentially increased the likelihood of claims in future. The legal fees in this case are vast and such litigation is best avoided if possible.
The Supreme Court website - Case Details
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The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors