News & Events

Martin Laver

Posted 15 March 2017
by Martin Laver

Supreme Court announces decision on Ilott v Mitson Inheritance Act Claim



The Supreme Court has today allowed the appeal by three animal charities in this long-running Inheritance Act claim.

You may remember that Tozers, contentious probate solicitors, reported about the above contentious probate court case back in July 2015 (read our previous article here). This was a landmark legal case that made the national headlines as Mrs Ilott, an estranged adult daughter of the deceased Mrs Mitson had managed to overturn her mother’s Will and make an inheritance claim from her mother’s estate, whereas her mother’s wishes stated that the proceeds of her £486,000 estate be divided between three animal charities upon her death.

Key points about the Ilott v Mitson case 

  • Following her mother’s death, Mrs Ilott made an application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for reasonable financial provision from her late mother’s estate.
  • Initially, Mrs Ilott was awarded £50,000 from her mother’s estate by the District Judge.
  • Mrs Ilott appealed against the amount of this award. The court of Appeal allowed Mrs Ilott’s appeal, making instead an award of £143,000, to enable Mrs Ilott to purchase her housing association home, the reasonable costs of the purchase, and payments up to a maximum of £20,000 structured in a way that would allow Mrs Ilott to preserve her state benefits.
  • The charities who benefitted from Mrs Mitson’s will, The Blue Cross, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, appealed against this decision to the Supreme Court on the basis that the District Judge had not made any errors in his judgment and it should stand.

Decision

The Supreme Court has said that the District Judge did not make the errors suggested by the Court of Appeal. Accordingly, Mrs Ilott will receive the original £50,000.

Comment

This case is hugely important because very few cases around these Inheritance Act claims ever make it to the Supreme Court and there has been very little guidance on the circumstances in which adult beneficiaries can bring claims, and the likely value of those claims. Significantly, the Supreme Court has said:

  • The wishes of the testator must be respected as far as possible.
  • Charitable legacies provide a substantial benefit and charities do not need to justify the legacies they receive by reference to need or expectation.
  • When considering the level of an award, housing need can usually be dealt with by a life interest, rather than a lump sum to purchase a property.

The last of these points is perhaps the most significant because many claims are presently valued based on the idea that housing need is taken care of by providing enough money to buy a house. The Supreme Court is giving a clear steer here that in fact a life interest (i.e. the right to live in a house but to not own it outright) is the more appropriate option.

However, the Court was clear that every case will turn on its own facts and the Court has a wide discretion in the awards it makes.

For more information please contact Martin Laver on 01392 667641 or email m.laver@tozers.co.uk

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About the author

Martin Laver

Martin Laver

Associate

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