The Court of Appeal decision in the Ilott v Mitson case released on 27th July 2015 received a lot of media attention.
The case was about a claim brought against the estate of the late Melita Jackson who died in 2004, by her estranged daughter Heather, under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Heather had not seen her mother Mrs Jackson since she left home at the age of 17 some 27 years before Mrs Jackson died.It is certainly not uncommon for a parent who has had no contact with their child for many years to exclude that child from benefit from the Will.
Mrs Jackson did just that and left a Will dividing her estate between three animal charities. Heather challenged the Will on the basis that reasonable financial provision had not been made for her. Heather was initially awarded a sum of £50,000 by the Family Court in 2007 but she appealed and the charities then cross appealed. Then on the 27th July 2015, the Court of Appeal released its decision that the original judgement was wrong and increased Heather’s award to approximately one-third of the estate to enable her to purchase her housing association property.
It is difficult to know why this case received so much attention from the media, as this is by no means the first time a Court has ordered a redistribution of an estate, contrary to a Testator’s Will to make provision for a child left out. Indeed in recent years, awards have not even been limited to cases where children have limited financial means.
Perhaps it is the length of the estrangement that has attracted the attention of the media in this case or maybe because Charities in general have recently been receiving some bad press about their methods of fund raising. Does this mean that estrangement is irrelevant where a child is not remembered in Will? The Court of Appeal established that estrangement can be relevant but they did not consider it relevant in this particular case because there was no suggestion that Heather wanted to be estranged from her mother Mrs Jackson. Perhaps therefore an applicant is likely to have more success if the applicant can establish that they were not to blame for the estrangement. Clients in these circumstances are still urged to leave a letter with their will explaining why their child has been excluded and where applicable emphasising that the estrangement cannot be attributed to any fault of the parent.
Therefore given the complexity of the law in relation to this Act, it is always advisable to seek professional advice from an experienced and trained Solicitor to mitigate the risk of a challenge after you die. Ungoed-Thomas and King has been accredited by the Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme of the Law Society which is a best practice quality mark for will drafting.
For further information or to make an appointment to see one of our experienced Solicitors to discuss this further, please contact us on (01267) 2337441.