The long awaited judgment for the final instalment of the inheritance dispute case, originally named Ilott v Mitson, has been received marking a u-turn towards testamentary freedom. In other words, the liberty a person has to dispose of their estate in whatever way they choose.
What has happened in this inheritance dispute case?
The claim was originally made by the daughter, Ms Heather Ilott, who had financial difficulties and was left nothing in her late mother’s estate, from whom she was estranged for many years. Her mother’s estate amounted to £486,000 and was left to three animal charities as requested in her Will.
As a daughter, Ms Ilott was able to make an application for an order to be put in place which allowed her to receive a reasonable financial provision from the estate. This application was possible under Section 2 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. Following the application, court proceedings were issued and in August 2007 an order was made which awarded Ms Ilott £50,000 as a capitalised maintenance sum. Neither she nor the charities were happy with this as Ms Ilott thought she should have been awarded more and the charities felt the claim should have been dismissed.
The decision was appealed by Ms Ilott on the basis that £50,000 was not a reasonable provision and the charities made a cross-appeal on the basis that no award should have been given to Ms Ilott. A further judgment was made in December 2009 in which the judge agreed with the charities and dismissed Ms Ilott’s claim meaning she would receive nothing from her mother’s estate.
Ms Ilott then appealed to the Court of Appeal in 2014 and as a result the court reverted back to the original decision that Ms Ilott would receive £50,000 from her estranged mother’s estate.
However, the still dissatisfied Ms Ilott appealed again in July 2015. This time she was awarded £143,000 from the estate in order to purchase her rented home and a further £20,000 as additional capital which would not affect her right to means tested benefits.
In 2016 the charities appealed to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK, asking them to overturn the decision of the Court of Appeal. The court agreed with the charities and the decision made in July 2015 was overturned on the basis that the court had failed to take sufficient account of her mother’s wishes and the long estrangement between the two of them. Their decision also looked at the question of maintenance and decided that although it should be considered broadly; it should not amount to everything the claimant would need. The Supreme Court’s final judgment arrived back at the 2014 decision to award Ms Ilott £50,000 from the estate and not to award her £143,000 and an additional £20,000, as in the 2015 judgement.
How does this decision impact on future claims against estates?
The impact of this decision is to remind us that a testator’s wishes (the person who creates the Will) are still important in a case where there is a claim on the estate by a disgruntled family member. Although such claims may not be prevented, it is important to take proper advice from a specialist legal adviser. By doing so you can ensure that your Will clearly reflects your wishes and avoids any attention from possible disputes.
For more information on creating a Will or an inheritance dispute, please contact our Personal Law team on 0161 475 7676.