The Supreme Court judgement in the recent Ilot v Mitson case provided rare and useful guidance on adult claimants in Inheritance Act claims, including;
- The wishes of the testator should be respected as far as possible.
- All factors within section 3 of the Inheritance Act should be considered.
- The closeness of the relationship is relevant, in particular, any estrangement and length of it.
- An award for reasonable financial provision is not to provide a wealthy lifestyle, but to meet the everyday expenses of living.
- When considering the amount for an award, housing can be dealt with by way of a life interest (i.e. an income) rather than a significant lump sum to purchase property.
- Charities do not need to justify a claim for the inheritance when they are the testator’s chosen beneficiaries.
- Every case will turn on its own facts and will be decided on a case by case basis.
What does this mean for adult children making Inheritance Act claims?
It is probably no surprise to anyone that the basic position is that the testator has freedom to leave their estate to whomever they like, and that should be respected as far as possible.
This principle, coupled with the case of Ilot v Mitson, has created much uncertainty and risk for adult claimants and estates alike.
The more recent case of Wellesley v Wellesley demonstrates the difficulties which now face adult claimants under Inheritance Act. This case concerned an estate worth around £1.3m. The deceased left a legacy of £20,000 to his estranged daughter. The estranged daughter brought a claim under the Inheritance Act and sought a substantial part of the estate to allow her to train and work as an artist.
Why could an Inheritance Act claim fail?
The applicant had been estranged from the deceased for over 30 years as he did not approve of the applicant’s lifestyle which included alcohol and drugs. The applicant lived on state benefits and lived in secure council housing. The claim failed and no award in addition to the £20,000 legacy was made to the applicant. The Court’s decision was made due to the following factors:
- The long estrangement caused by the applicant’s lifestyle and so there was no ‘moral obligation’ to provide maintenance for the applicant, nor was there a reasonable expectation of financial provision.
- The deceased’s testamentary freedom and the guidance provided in Ilot (summary above).
- The factors provided for in section 3 of Inheritance Act were considered and it was concluded that the applicant was able to live within her means and so there was no particular financial need for housing or resources (even though the application was in receipt of state funded support).
What advice is there for adult children making Inheritance Act claims?
From this case we can observe the following advice:
- Wellesley demonstrates difficulty for adult claimants in a post Ilot.
- The Court will try their best to uphold freedom of testamentary disposition and will not move away from this position without just cause.
- A claimant must demonstrate a clear requirement for financial assistance for housing and/or resources. Wellesley demonstrates that the Court will not necessarily replace state funded support with private wealth (this has been a particular cause of debate over the years).
- It is unknown what impact the legacy of £20,000 had on Wellesley. In the event there was no legacy to the claimant, and the result of this case may have been slightly different with a small award granted.
Although there is an uphill battle for adult claimants, there are a number of factors to be taken into account and each circumstance is different. It is possible for adult claimants to succeed in one way or another.
What about minor children?
To find out about Inheritance Act and Minor Children please read our recent insight.
Find out more
For further advice and guidance on claiming under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 please contact our team of expert lawyers.