Three of Britain's biggest animal charities are fighting a judgment awarding £163,000 to an estranged child who had been disinherited by her mother when she died 12 years ago.
Heather Ilott, 55, was left with nothing when her mother Melita Jackson excluded her from her will allegedly out of spite leaving her estate to charity instead. In 2015 the Court of Appeal awarded her a £163,000 share of the £486,000 fortune after judges agreed the decision to exclude her from a share in the estate was 'unreasonable, capricious and harsh', particularly as it left Mrs Ilott and her family in severe financial difficulties.
Mrs Jackson had been estranged from her daughter for many years before her death at 70 in 2004 after Mrs Ilott left home at 17 to elope with her boyfriend, who she later married and has five children with. Attempts at reconciliation failed and when 70-year-old Mrs Jackson died in 2004 her will made no provision for her estranged daughter.
Mrs Ilott, won £50,000 in court in 2007 but then continued the case before the Court of Appeal awarded her £163,000 in 2015.
The Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals argue that the appeal judges were wrong in deciding to increase the maintenance payout, which included £143,000 for Mrs Ilott to buy her housing association home.
The Supreme Court have been urged to either make an 'appropriate' order for Mrs Ilott's 'provision', or to restore the order made in 2007 that the sum should be £50,000.
Claire Booth from the Brown Turner Ross Private Client Team commented:
"Mrs Ilott made an application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for 'reasonable financial provision' from her mother's estate. The Act confers the right on a child of a deceased parent to apply for an order if a will does not make reasonable provision for their maintenance.
It is the first time that an appeal under the 1975 Act has reached the Supreme Court. The challenge is opposed by lawyers for Mrs Ilott. The charities say their case before the Supreme Court, headed by the Court's President Lord Neuberger, is to 'affirm the importance of testamentary freedom and secure crucial guidance for the future'.
It is now important that we receive essential clarity from the Supreme Court regarding the scope of the court's power to interfere with a person's testamentary wishes using the 1975 Act. It is not uncommon for people to
- leave money to someone with whom they had no obvious connection
- exclude someone close to them from their Will because they have fallen out or, because they believe that person has no need of a share in the estate
- leave money to charity which causes resentment amongst family members who think the estate should have been left to them
In these circumstances a letter is normally written explaining the decisions contained in the Will.
The charities say that in April 2002 Mrs Jackson wrote such a letter to accompany her will in which she explained her decision and instructed her executors to defend any attempt by her daughter to contest it.
They said that in the letter she wrote: 'If my daughter should bring a claim against my estate I instruct my Executors to defend such a claim as I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate. I have made it clear to my daughter during her lifetime that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die'.
The Supreme Court has been asked to rule on five issues relating to the 1975 Act. They include
- whether the appeal judges were wrong to 'set aside' the district judge's award
- whether they 'erred' in taking account of the factual position 'as at the date of the appeal rather than the date of the original hearing', and also
- whether the court was wrong to 'structure' an award under the 1975 Act in a way which allowed Mrs Illott to preserve her entitlement to state benefits
Were the Court of Appeal 'wrong to interfere' with the discretion of District Judge Million 'because his exercise of discretion indicated no error of law, was not plainly wrong and there had been no other procedural irregularity?
Did the appeal judges 'fail to give due weight' to the fact that Mrs Illott had been 'independent of the deceased her entire adult life, had been estranged from her and had no expectation of benefiting from her estate?
These are all issues that the Supreme Court needs to rule on so that anyone in the position Mrs Jackson was in can organise their affairs knowing that their wishes will be respected."
If you want advice on making a Will or, if your Will needs updating call Claire now - Brown Turner Ross is a founder member of Certainty, the National Will Register.