Ilott v Mitson: how will this judgement affect future challenges to Wills?
Last week, after a long and much-publicised legal process, the Supreme Court made its final ruling in the case of Ilott v Mitson, the challenge by a daughter to her mother’s Will in which she left her estate to charity instead of her family.
The well-documented case arose from the challenge to the estate of Melita Jackson, a widow who died in 2004 leaving only an adult child, Heather Ilott. In her Will, Mrs Jackson chose to make no provision for her daughter, from whom she was estranged, and instead left her net estate of £486,000 to three charities.
This was a decision Mrs Jackson had made as early as 1984, reflected in her Will of that year. The most recent Will she had dated from April 16, 2003.
Mrs Ilott sought to use the Inheritance Act 1975 to challenge her mother’s Will on the basis that it did not make ‘reasonable financial provision’ for her.
Initially, she was awarded £50,000 in the High Court – a second challenge by Mrs Ilott in the Court of Appeal saw this sum increased to £164,000, a third of her mother’s estate, so that she could buy her rented Housing Association home.
However, last week’s Supreme Court judgement strikes out the previous ruling, and restores the original award of £50,000.
The ruling sets out that making ‘reasonable financial provision’ does not mean providing the claimant with everything they need but, equally, it is not limited to the absolute essentials.
The Supreme Court ruling was also clear that the Court of Appeal should have attributed greater importance to Mrs Jackson’s very clear wishes and the long period of estrangement from her daughter.
In short, this case does not protect your Will from a legal challenge brought by a disgruntled family member, nor does it give you an absolute right to dispose of your estate in whatever way you wish.
However, it does mean that if your Will is challenged then the court will look at all of the circumstances of the case – not least of all, your intentions when making your Will and your relationship with the people who are named in that Will and those who are left out – before deciding whether or not to make an award.
Legal guidance is always advisable when preparing a Will, but is essential when doing so in such circumstances.
Sophie Robinson is a fee earner in the specialist Wills & Probate team at Newcastle law firm Sintons. To speak to her about this or any other matter, contact Sophie on 0191 226 7812 or firstname.lastname@example.org