Two recent court cases have highlighted just how uncertain the outcome of legal action can be for families who are battling inheritance claims.
The recent case of Ilott v Mitson – which dragged on for almost a decade – saw disinherited daughter, Heather Ilott, lose out after she unsuccessfully attempted to dispute her mother’s Will that named three animal charities as the major beneficiaries of her estate.
The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the charities, leaving Mrs Ilott with only £50,000, which was far less than she had claimed she was entitled to and significantly less than had been awarded to her by the Court of Appeal.
Another recent case, known only as ‘W’ v ‘L’, involved a messy legal battle over the rights to a property.
The deceased had been living with her partner, W, for almost 20 years at the time of her death. The deceased had intended to leave her property to her daughter, L and no discussion had taken place between her and W about him receiving any provision after her death.
The daughter therefore issued a claim for possession of the property against W, who made a cross-application for relief under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Inheritance Act”), arguing that he should have the right to buy the property he had shared with the deceased for two decades.
As the partner of the deceased, W claimed that there had been a failure to make reasonable financial provision for him. The judge agreed with W, saying that the meaning of ‘maintenance’ under the Act could be interpreted to mean more than just a financial benefit and ruled that he should be given an option to buy the property.
Lee McClellan, a partner with Palmers who specialises in disputed Wills and contentious probate matters, said: “These two cases show just how difficult it can be to predict with certainty the outcome of a claim under the Inheritance Act. Even one of the Judges in the Supreme Court bemoaned the lack of clear guidance available on how to quantify any award made under the Act.
“Although there are times when court action is the only way forward, it is certainly not the first route to consider. It is important to explore other ways of reaching a fair outcome, for example through alternative dispute resolution, mediation in particular, which can often be a successful and cost effective method of resolving probate disagreements.”
For more information and advice on probate disputes and matters relating to inheritance, please contact us.