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Inheritance dispute goes to the Supreme Court: Ilott v Mitson

22 Mar 2016

In a high profile case last year, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Heather Ilott’s claim against her mother’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. We reported on this case in September 2015. Click here for detailed information.

It has now been announced that the charity beneficiaries, The Blue Cross, RSPB and RSPCA, who lost out in that case have been granted permission to appeal the judgment which will be heard by the Supreme Court.

It is expected to hear the case in about 18 months and will decide whether the Court of Appeal was wrong in its approach to the “maintenance” standard under the Act, or if it was wrong to structure an award in a way which allowed Mrs Ilott to maintain her entitlement to state benefits.

Following the Court of Appeal judgment last year, there was widespread concern that the principle of testamentary freedom had been eroded and it seemed more likely that an adult child could be successful in making a claim against their parents’ estate. It will be interesting to hear the outcome from the Supreme Court which may narrow again the potential for claims.

In the meantime we must continue to advise our clients how to try to minimise the risk of any claims being made after death. Options they could consider include:

  • Instead of disinheriting an adult child (or other beneficiary) the client could consider leaving them a modest legacy which may discourage them from making a challenge.
  • A statement or letter of wishes could be left with the Will explaining the reasons for the provisions of the Will, including in particular why they have omitted certain relatives or other expectant beneficiaries.
  • If a client wishes to benefit people or charities who are not direct family members then it is helpful if the client chooses beneficiaries with whom they have a connection during their lifetime such as charities they have supported. Evidence of this should be noted either in a letter of wishes stored with the Will or in the solicitor’s notes.
  • Detailed notes should be kept by the solicitor drawing up the Will evidencing the basis on which the client reached their decisions regarding the provisions to include in their Will.

We await the judgment from the Supreme Court in the Ilott v Mitson case. The case highlights the importance of seeking professional advice when making a Will to ensure sufficient steps are taken to minimise the likelihood of any claims being made against an estate or any such claims being successful.

Keep an eye on our ‘News’ page as well as our Twitter feed for updates or contact Alice Clewes, Partner in our Private Capital team on 0191 232 8345 / Alice.Clewes@hay-kilner.co.uk