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Successful Will challenge by estranged child

23 Sep 2015

The latest Will challenge case to hit the headlines concerned Heather Ilott’s claim against her mother’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act (“the 1975 Act”) on the basis that she did not receive ‘reasonable financial provision’ under the Will of her mother, Melita Jackson.

Mrs Ilott was an only child and lived with her mother until, at the age of 17, she moved in with her boyfriend, whom she later married. Her actions at 17 created a difficult relationship with her mother and several attempts at repairing the relationship failed.

Mrs Jackson therefore excluded Mrs Ilott from benefitting under her Will and in a letter accompanying her Will, Mrs Jackson explained her reasons:  that they had been estranged since the daughter was 17 due to “lifestyle choices”. There was an “irreconcilable rift” between them and Mrs Jackson instead left all the residue of her estate to the RSPCA, the RSPB and Blue Cross. Mrs Jackson also signed a letter of wishes directing her executors to fight any challenge to the terms of her Will.

Mrs Ilott was aware that her mother had excluded her from her Will and did not expect anything when she passed away. Mrs Jackson died in 2004, aged 70, leaving an estate worth approximately £486,000.

Mrs Ilott first brought a claim against her mother’s estate in 2007 and was awarded £50,000 as ‘reasonable financial provision’, but Mrs Ilott appealed because the effect of the original award was that she would lose her means-tested benefits, meaning that in real terms she was no better off.

In the latest hearing in the Court of Appeal, it was ruled that the initial ruling was based on a fundamental error by failing to consider the effect of the original award on Mrs Ilott’s financial position and the Court therefore awarded a sum of £143,000, plus costs and expenses, to allow Mrs Ilott to buy her housing association home.  She was also given an option to receive up to an additional £20,000 which could be requested in instalments so that her benefits would not be affected.

What does this mean for you?

The decision shows that adult children can successfully claim under the 1975 Act not only when they were not being maintained at the time of the death but even when estranged. However, there are particular facts that must be highlighted:

  1. Mrs Jackson had no particular connection with the three charities she chose to benefit; and
  2. Mrs Ilott was in dire financial circumstances at the time of her mother’s death.

Testators should be advised to give reasons for any exclusion of their child/children, especially if they are in ‘financial need’ but also show reasons why particular charities or other beneficiaries have been chosen.

As a result of this case the number of claims brought under the 1975 Act may increase so it is all the more important that professional advice is sought when Wills are being made to ensure sufficient steps are taken to minimise the likelihood of any claims being made against an estate or any such claims being successful.

For further information, please contact Alice Clewes on 0191 232 8345 or email: Alice.Clewes@hay-kilner.co.uk