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Posted 29 July 2015
by Martin Laver

Inheritance claims – can you really leave it all to the cats’ home?

The press today, The Telegraph are reporting on the latest judgment in the long running case of Ilott -v- Mitson, a case about a challenge to the Will of a lady who left everything to charity.

The deceased, Mrs Jackson had one daughter, Mrs Ilott, from whom she was estranged since Mrs Ilott left home at 17 to live with her then boyfriend.  Attempts to repair the relationship ended in failure on each occasion.  Mrs Jackson made a Will leaving her entire estate, around £500,000 to three animal charities with whom she had no connection during her lifetime.  Mrs Jackson specified in her Will that she did not want to leave her daughter anything and gave specific instructions that any claim brought by her daughter should be vigorously defended.

Mrs Ilott did indeed challenge the Will using the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 (“IPFADA”).  IPFADA says an applicant can bring a claim where a Will does not make reasonable financial provision for their maintenance.  The rules are different for spouses wishing to claim.  Mrs Ilott was in receipt of benefits and living in straitened circumstances.  She had several children under 18 at the time her mother died.

At the first hearing in 2007, the court ruled that the will did not make reasonable financial provision for Mrs Ilott and that Mrs Jackson was unreasonable in making no financial provision for her daughter at all.  The court described Mrs Jackson as “unreasonable, capricious and harsh” in her dealings towards her daughter.  The court decided to award Mrs Ilott £50,000.

Mrs Ilott appealed the decision on the basis that the judgment did not provide her with sufficient money for her maintenance.  Initially, the appeal was rejected at the High Court in 2014 and permission was granted to appeal to the Court of Appeal.

That appeal was heard on 3 July 2015 and the decision made public yesterday. The Court of Appeal decided that the calculations made by the original judge were incorrect and has increased the award to £163,000 made up as follows:

• £143,000 as sum necessary for Mrs Ilott to buy her Housing Association home; and
• £20,000 as a capital fund from which she can seek lump sums.

The particular facts of this case (Mrs Jackson’s behaviour, Mrs Ilott’s financial position and the lack of any other beneficiaries other than the charities) are likely to have contributed to the decision.  However, it does highlight that if you are going to leave family members out of your Will, you have to act reasonably and have sound grounds for doing so.  It also highlights that charities are faced with a difficult choice in defending these sorts of claims.  I have already written an article on this point.  In this case, the court wasn’t entirely sympathetic to charities – no criticism of the charities conduct was made I should mention – but the charities’ positions weighed little in the overall assessment.

The question has been posed, again, about whether it is worth making a Will in the first place.  The answer is an emphatic YES!  Most Wills will not be susceptible to challenge in this way and you will lose all control over your estate once you are gone.

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About the author

Martin Laver

Partner and Solicitor

Partner in the commercial litigation team specialising in disputed trusts and Wills