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Another inheritance dispute - claim by adult child dismissed

25 Oct 2016

We now know that the inheritance dispute decision Ilott v Mitson is due to be heard on 12 December by the Supreme Court. We reported on this case in September 2015 and in March 2016. This was the case where despite a carefully written Will disinheriting her only daughter together with an explanatory Letter of Wishes, a successful claim was brought against Mrs Jackson’s estate by her estranged daughter, Mrs Ilott. This case introduced concerns that an adult child with no financial dependence on the deceased parent could be successful in making a claim and in doing so the principle of freedom of testamentary disposition would be limited.

Whilst the Supreme Court hearing is awaited there has been another case where an adult child has brought a claim against their parent’s estate. In the case of Ames v Jones, 41 year old Danielle Ames made a claim against the estate of her father Michael Ames who chose to leave his entire estate to his second wife, Danielle’s stepmother.

It was argued Danielle and her two teenage children were dependent on her long term cohabitant as she was not in paid work. She therefore claimed she was dependent on her father to make provision for her monthly income deficit of about £2,000.

The case was heard by Mr Recorder Halpern QC in the Central London County Court and he dismissed Danielle’s claim as he ruled she had no disability and was fit to work in contrast to the stepmother who was passed working age and was not well. He concluded that Danielle was capable of working and her lack of employment was a lifestyle choice. In deciding whether any award should be made under the 1975 Act all the factors needed to be considered. This includes the financial resources and financial needs which the applicant and any beneficiary of the estate of the deceased has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future. He found that the stepmother required the entirety of the estate to meet her reasonable needs and that Danielle had not satisfied him as to her own needs and resources.

This case can perhaps be distinguished from the Ilott case which was comparing the interests of an adult child and charities whereas this case was considering an adult child and her father’s second wife. In the Ilott case the key factor was that the financial need of Mrs Ilott and her family had to be balanced against that of the charities. However since they did not rely on any competing need, they were not prejudiced by what may have been a higher award than the Court would otherwise need to make. The decision in Ilott may therefore have been very different had Mrs Ilott not been dependent on state benefits and if her needs were weighed against non charitable beneficiaries.

It is clear therefore that every case will turn on its own facts and we will continue to wait with interest the outcome of the Ilott Supreme Court decision. In the meantime, we must be alive to the possibility of challenges against a client’s estate and advise them of the options available to them to minimise any such claims.

For further information, please contact Alice Clewes, Partner at Hay & Kilner

Call: 0191 232 8345

Email: Alice.Clewes@hay-kilner.co.uk