Landmark Ruling Gives Disinherited Adult Children Hope
The Court of Appeal ruled this week that an adult child should receive £163,000 from her late, estranged mother’s estate in the landmark case of Ilott v Mitson.
Melita Jackson died in 2004 and left her entire net estate, worth £486,000 to animal charities. Mrs Jackson had one daughter, Heather Ilott, at the time of her death but she did not make any provision for her in her will. Mrs Jackson went so far as to write two letters of wishes explaining why she did not want to leave anything to her only daughter.
When Heather was 17 she eloped with Nick Ilott of whom her mother did not approve, so they were estranged from each other for over 26 years.
When Mrs Jackson died, Heather, now 54, pursued a claim against her late mother’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Heather argued that her mother’s will had not made “reasonable financial provision” for her – she was a mother of 5 children, lived in a council house and relied heavily on state benefits.
Heather Ilott had been battling her case for over a decade. It was first heard at trial by D J Million in 2007 where it was held that Heather should be awarded £50,000 from her late mother’s estate. D J Million said that Mrs Jackson was “harsh and unreasonable … to exclude her daughter from any consideration of financial provision.”
In 2009 Heather appealed the above decision on the basis that the £50,000 award was too small. Eleanor J King ruled that if provision was given to Mrs Ilott then this would “undermine the basic premise that in the UK a citizen can leave his estate where he pleases.” This resulted in the original decision being overturned and the judge found in favour of the three charities.
Heather fought on and brought a second appeal in 2011. The court decided to reinstate the original decision made by D J Million and the case was referred back to the High Court, to deal with Heather’s appeal against the £50,000 she was originally awarded.
On the 3rd July 2015 the High Court heard Heather’s appeal. Heather sought enough money to buy a property and some capital to meet her “non housing needs”. The judge considered the section 3 factors under the Inheritance Act which are: –
- the financial resources and needs of the applicant;
- the financial resources and needs of any other applicant;
- the financial resources and needs of the beneficiaries;
- any obligations and responsibilities of the deceased towards any applicant and any beneficiary;
- the size and nature of the estate of the deceased;
- any physical or mental disability of any applicant or beneficiary; and
- any other matter, including conduct, which the court may consider relevant.
Mrs Ilott’s barrister, who acted for her on a pro bono basis stated that Mrs Jackson had no connection with the charities and anything that they received from her estate would be a windfall. The charities argued that Heather was “an adult child, living independently … so the court is not concerned to provide her with an income that would support her family’s needs.”
The settlement by D J Million was set aside. Mrs Justice Parker stated that the award made by D J Million was “vitiated by legal errors”. She considered that the correct judgment would be to award an amount of £143,000 so Heather could buy a property, plus the reasonable costs needed to buy that property. She continued that she would award a further amount of money to supplement Heather’s state benefits which would not exceed £20,000.
“The case of Ilott v Mitson is no doubt a landmark decision in the area of contentious probate and has caused a lot of controversy in the media and the legal sector. Even though Heather Ilott won her case, claims involving adult children will still require careful consideration in respect of both the circumstances and the section 3 factors. Adult children are likely to have a better chance of succeeding under the Act if for example they were living at home, or they were financially dependent on the deceased at the time of their death.”
She went on to say:
“People who have already made a will may want to review it and if necessary seek legal advice to ensure their wishes are carried out when they die. Regardless of the above decision, English law continues to adopt a freedom of testamentary expression so parents can still choose to disinherit their children. After this ruling it may be that a detailed explanation is required as to why they have been disinherited and what connection the testator has to those who are going to be benefitting from their estate when they die.”
Samantha is a paralegal in the Litigation team at Ridley & Hall solicitors with experience in will disputes and personal injury cases.
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