Challenging financial provision to adult children and Wills; Ilott v Mitson and the sensational headlines surrounding it, does not mean your Will can now be ignored.
The recent case, Ilott V Mitson, is one of the most well known cases about contentious Wills. Heather Ilott brought an appeal against her deceased mother, for reasonable financial provision, after she left her estate of £486,000 to 3 animal charities. Ilott received an award of £164,000 in the Court of Appeal.
Media reports on the case have failed to explain the laws around contentious wills and the reason behind the Court of Appeal’s decision to award Ilott a financial reward.
- Melita Jackson, Ilott’s mother, died 10th July 2004, leaving a net estate of £486,000. She was a widow and only had one daughter – Heather Ilott.
- Mother and daughter became estranged in the 1970s and the relationship was never repaired.
- In 2002, Mrs Jackson made a Will leaving her whole estate equally between 3 animal charities, that she had no connection with during her life. She also left an ill-tempered letter, explaining why her daughter got nothing.
- Mrs Ilott bought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision For Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for reasonable financial provision.
- Individuals can contest Wills in England and Wales on death of the testator, if the deceased has not made reasonable financial provision for that particular individual.
- The 1975 Act, allows such claims to be made by individuals such as widows and children.
- In the case of a claim, the court must assess the claim, taking into consideration factors such as, the financial resources and needs of the applicant and any other beneficiary, obligations and responsibilities the deceased had to an applicant or beneficiary, the size of the net estate of the deceased and the physical or mental disability of any applicant or beneficiary.
The Court of Appeal’s decision
The court decided Mrs Ilott had not received reasonable financial provision. The letter written by the deceased and left with her Will, contained factual errors and while Mrs Ilott could prove need of provision, the large charities could not.
As the estate was so large, at £486,000, Mrs Ilott and the 3 charities could all receive provision.
A change in the law?
The decision does not indicate a change in law, but does show there needs be no special circumstance for an adult child to contest a Will. The case will be citied in the future in support of claims brought by adult children.
The main points to consider in this case are;
- The charities, as substantial organisations, did not have financial need. If other beneficiaries had been family members or other individuals, the decision may have been different.
- The size of the deceased’s estate; as it was so large it could be shared between all parties. Had the estate been smaller, it would have been a much harder decision.
- The letter, written by the deceased and left with the Will, was emotive, irrationally argued and factually incorrect; if this had not been the case, the Court of Appeal may have given greater weight to Mrs Jackson’s wishes.