A landmark ruling in the UK’s highest court has given more security to the final wishes of people set out in their Will but has also raised questions about the rights of family members to make a claim on an estate. Melanie Grose, Partner in Coodes Solicitors’ Dispute Resolution Team analyses the judgment.
“The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a group of charities arguing that the daughter of a benefactor could not be awarded a large cash sum from her mother’s estate after being cut out of her will.
“The case arises out of a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act brought by Heather Ilott who was estranged from her mother Melita Jackson. When she died in 2004, Mrs Jackson left most of her estate to charity and made no provision for her daughter.
“Initially, a District Judge found that the Will did not make reasonable financial provision for Mrs Ilott, who was living on state benefits, and awarded her £50,000. She appealed this as too low and the Court of Appeal awarded her £143,000 to buy the home she lived in as well as £20,000. But the charities then appealed this and the case was sent to the UK’s highest court for judgment. The Supreme Court has now ruled that the initial amount of £50,000 should be awarded, seeing it as reasonable financial provision for Mrs Ilott’s maintenance.
“Importantly, the ruling makes clear that maintenance does not mean providing everything the applicant reasonably needs, and the applicant’s needs will not necessarily be the measure of an award when a Will is challenged.
“With an ageing population and complex family structures, people are increasingly seeking advice on the validity or fairness of Wills and their inheritance.
“The move by the Supreme Court is being seen as offering clarity and reassurance to those drawing up a Will, reaffirming that they are free to choose who will benefit when they die.
“But alongside the case is the contentious issue of whether adult descendants ought to be able to make a claim on an estate. Indeed, Lady Hale, a member of the seven-strong Supreme Court which unanimously allowed the charities’ appeal, observed that the case also raises ‘profound questions’.
“The subject needs more focus in the future, to make clear not only the rights and wishes of those drawing up a Will, but also for family members who believe they can make a claim on an estate even if they are estranged from their relatives.”
For more information contact Melanie Grose on 01872 246200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.