Over the past week the probate legal community has been busy debating the case of Ilott v Mitson, where a woman who was excluded from her mother’s will was awarded a £164,000 inheritance.
The deceased (Mrs Jackson) and her daughter (Heather) were estranged and consequently Mrs Jackson excluded Heather from her will and left the estate to three animal charities. Mrs Jackson died in 2004 and Heather challenged the exclusion on the basis that she was a daughter and there was no reasonable provision in the will for her maintenance. The case has been the subject of protracted litigation and after the appeal concluded this week, she was awarded 1/3 of the estate.
Naomi Pinder, Head of Probate, QualitySolicitors Jackson Canter says: “Of course each case is dependant on the specific facts and circumstances, but the general principle of English law that means a person is able to leave his or her estate to the beneficiaries of their choice, has been turned on its head in this unprecedented judgement.
“However, this testamentary freedom has always been subject to the terms of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This Act can be seen as protecting the vulnerable or as a ‘spongers’ charter’, depending on your point of view.
“It can be argued that as Heather is dependent on the State, this creates a financial need so the funds from her mother’s estate should be made available - Heather intends to buy her housing association home with the inheritance.
“It is also significant that Mrs Jackson didn’t have any lifetime connection with the charities she included in her will and in practice potential claims can be dealt with by leaving a gift of limited financial value.
“Ultimately, the outcome of this appeal reinforces the need to ask clients extensive questions about family circumstances in order to identify potential claims and to advise about how they can be addressed. There is so much litigation concerning wills and a full investigation is necessary so that any claims can be resisted in the future, after the person has died and the contents of the will come to light.”