Lawyers were recently shocked by a landmark ruling that saw the Court of Appeal award a woman £164,000 from her estranged mother’s estate, despite her mother making her wishes expressly clear that her daughter should not receive a penny. This has ultimately raised the question over the validity of wills.
Until this ruling, The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 stated that whilst claims by adult non-dependent children could be made their chances of success would be very limited. However, this recent ruling has changed the position.
In a court battle that lasted almost a decade, the Court of Appeal overrode the will of Melita Jackson which left her entire estate of £500,000 to three animal charities. Jackson’s will was contested on the grounds that her daughter had not been left ‘reasonable financial provision’ and that she and her five children were facing a life of poverty.
This ruling, although seemingly consistent with the 1975 Act (as it is most commonly known), raises a number of issues:
- What is the point of expressing your wishes in a will if there’s a risk it could be overturned – does this question the validity of wills?
- What advice should we now give our clients who want to ensure one of their children should not benefit from their will?
- What does this mean for the charity sector, who are now likely to be fearful that lawyers will be advising their clients to reduce gifts to charities if there’s a chance to reduce the risk of any claims from children?
- Will this ruling have implications for the other types of claimant, for example a deceased’s spouse or cohabitee?
From now on lawyers, will have to take extra steps when advising their clients that there is a chance their wishes could be ignored if they are looking to leave someone else out of their will. However, although we could never guarantee that an aggrieved son or daughter couldn’t make a claim, there are certain steps we can advise our clients take to prevent this from happening.
One of the reasons Jackson’s will was successfully contested was because while she was alive she hadn’t shown any interest in the animal charities she wanted to leave her money to. This implied to the judge that she’d arbitrarily chosen the charities over her daughter.
There are a number of ways this situation can be avoided, for example by making an expression of wishes in support of these charities and donating regularly to them prior to death. From now on it’s going to be essential to demonstrate a connection to the person (if they’re not a relative) or organisation you want to leave your money to. Alternatively, you might want to think about disposing of your assets prior to death to ensure there is little left for anyone to contest.
On the other side of the coin, this ruling could have implications for other applicants looking to explore whether they have a valid claim on the basis of lack of financial provision from the deceased’s estate. Every case is different and will be looked at on its own facts. The family dynamics that exist today are different from those that were present in the 1970s. There are an increasing number of second marriages, children, step children and children who are treated as children of the family who might have a valid claim for provision.
Whether you’re looking to disinherit someone or even make a claim on an estate, it’s always advisable to seek legal advice to work out your best course of action.
For further information on the or validity of wills contesting a will, please contact our Dispute Resolution team on 0161 475 7676.