In a case which has attracted media attention over a number of years, a will that was deemed to be unreasonable has been overturned by the courts, resulting in a woman being awarded £164,000 from her estranged mother’s estate, despite the deceased stating in her will that she did not want her daughter to receive any financial benefit.
The relationship between Mrs Jackson and her only child broke down when her daughter Heather left home to live with her future husband, Nicholas Ilott, when she was 17. The couple went on to have five children.
When she died in 2004, Melita Jackson left her £500,000 estate to animal charities. However, following a court battle, Heather Ilott was granted a third of that money on the grounds that her mother did not make “reasonable provision” for her in the will.
The Court of Appeal ruled that Mrs Ilott would otherwise face a life of poverty because she was receiving benefits and could not afford to buy clothes for her children.
Mrs Jackson was described in court as “unreasonable, capricious and harsh” and had “unreasonably excluded” her daughter from her will. Indeed, before her death in 2004, Mrs Jackson wrote in a letter to lawyers: “I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate. I have made it clear to my daughter… that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die.”
Mrs Ilott challenged the will in 2007 claiming for “reasonable provision” under the 1975 Inheritance Act. Despite a commonly held view that it was difficult for adult beneficiaries to successfully pursue claims under this Act, Mrs Ilott won £50,000 from the estate in 2011 before challenging for more money. She lost in the High Court last year but succeeded in the Court of Appeal.
Lady Justice Arden awarded Mrs Ilott £164,000 to allow her to buy her housing association home in Ware, Herts, with £20,000 left over to supplement her state benefits.
Lee McClellan, Partner at Palmers Solicitors who specialises in both the preparation and challenging of wills, said: “Whilst this case does not change the existing law, it shows the importance of not only making a will, but also explaining the reasons for leaving money to certain parties and demonstrating connections with them. Mrs Jackson did not have a strong relationship with the animal charities that received her estate and that had an influence on this case.
“Those seeking to make wills in which they disinherit family members who might expect to benefit on their death should seek advice from a solicitor specialising in this area of law on how best to achieve the outcome they desire.
“Whilst it remains difficult to successfully challenge a will, particularly if it has been prepared by a specialist solicitor, this case also demonstrates the value of obtaining specialist advice to those seeking to challenge the position.”