A long-running inheritance dispute, involving three animal charities and a disinherited daughter, has finally come to an end, following a Supreme Court hearing this month (March 2017).
The highest judiciary in the country were asked to reconsider the case of Ilott v Mitson which had been ongoing since 2007.
The dispute involved the estate of the late Melita Jackson, who died in 2004 leaving the majority of her £486,000 estate to the RSPCA, Blue Cross and RSPB.
Mrs Jackson went to great lengths to disinherit her daughter Heather Illott. Their relationship broke down after Heather left home at the age of 17 to live with her future husband, Nicholas Illott, and Mrs Jackson later wrote to her lawyers saying: “I have made it clear to my daughter…that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die.”
She even left a professionally drafted letter of wishes discouraging any claim by Mrs Ilott on her estate. Despite this, her daughter made a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, mainly on the basis that she and her family had a very low income and lived on state benefits.
Not surprisingly, the claim was opposed by the three charity beneficiaries named in the Will.
Initially, a district court judge decided that Mrs Ilott’s circumstances merited a £50,000 award from the estate. This was later overturned in the High Court.
She appealed, and last year the Court of Appeal (EWCA) granted her £163,000 – around a third of the estate – to buy a house.
The Supreme Court, headed by the UK’s top judge, Lord Neuberger, has now ruled in favour of the animal charities, overturning the Court of Appeal’s decision, meaning that Mrs Ilott only receives £50,000 as originally awarded by a district court judge.
Lee McClellan, a partner with Palmers who specialises in Will disputes, said: “This case has made headlines for the past ten years and now that it has finally come to a conclusion, the ramifications will need to be carefully considered by those seeking to exclude potential claimants under the 1975 Act.
“It is always unfortunate when family relationships break down but when it does happen, anyone planning to make a Will in which they disinherit family members, who might otherwise expect to benefit on their death, should seek advice from a solicitor specialising in this area of law on how best to achieve their wishes.
“Challenging a Will successfully is not easy, particularly if it has been prepared by a specialist in this field, but it is possible in some circumstances, as this case has demonstrated. We have experience of Will disputes at Palmers and can provide expert legal advice on the strength of a case and how best to proceed. For more information, please contact us.”