On the 27th July 2015 Mrs Heather Ilott won a landmark case in the Court of Appeal having contested her mother Melita Jackson’s will, a decision that has ramifications for all testators and beneficiaries.
Mrs Jackson had excluded her daughter as a beneficiary of her will, as they had been estranged for around 26 years, instead leaving her entire estate to three charities, The RSPCA, Blue Cross and RSPB. Mrs Jackson explained her reasons for disinheriting her daughter and specifically instructed her executors to defend any claim from her daughter in a letter, signed and witnessed on 16 April 2002, that accompanied her will.
“My daughter has not been financially reliant upon me since she left home, although I did make gifts of money to her on her birthday and at Christmas up to and including her 21st birthday, although she refused to acknowledge any of the payments that I made to her.
“If my daughter should bring a claim against my estate I instruct my Executors to defend such a claim as I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate… I have made it clear to my daughter during her lifetime that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die”.
“My Executors should use this letter as evidence in any Court proceedings as they think fit”.
Despite this the will was challenged by Mrs Ilott who sought provision from her mother’s estate. In 2007 the Court awarded her £50,000 to provide for her ‘maintenance needs’. Dissatisfied with this decision Mrs Ilott appealed in an attempt to secure a larger sum from the estate. This appeal was rejected but in late 2014 she was allowed to launch another appeal the court this time awarding her £163,000.
The Appeal Court decision has been viewed as a possible landmark judgement that could influence future contested wills and indeed encourage other family members to challenge the provisions of Wills. Given the decline of the nuclear family and rise of blended families, it is possible that more people will choose to challenge wills using the provision of section 3 of the 1975 Act which says dependants have a right to a “reasonable financial provision.”
The final word goes to James Aspden, a Partner at Wilsons Solicitors who is representing the three charities.
“This is a worrying decision for anyone who values having the freedom to choose who will receive their property when they die. We have now seen four separate sets of judges reach quite different conclusions in this case, having considered exactly the same set of facts over a period of some eight years. The decision to allow this very late, further appeal against a Judgment delivered in 2007 can only encourage others to appeal and will further complicate the court’s task when deciding Inheritance Act claims.”