More Will disputes following a £164,000 landmark ruling?
Judgment was given on 27 July 2015 in the Court of Appeal in the matter of Ilott v Mitson. This decision appears to place greater restrictions on a persons' freedom to make a Will as they chose. It is also likely to make it easier for adult children to challenge Wills if they do not consider that their parents have left them reasonable financial provision.
The facts of this matter are that Melita Jackson died in 2004 having prepared a Will in 2002. In this Will, Mrs Jackson made it clear that she did not want her daughter Heather Ilott to benefit from her estate. Mrs Jackson left her entire net estate valued at just under £500,000 to three charities, the RSPB, the RSPCA and the Blue Cross.
Mrs Jackson had disinherited her daughter having been estranged from her for 26 years after Heather had eloped with her boyfriend at the age of 17.
In 2007 the County Court awarded Heather £50,000. Heather appealed to get this amount increased but the appeal was dismissed at a High Court ruling in March 2014 that held that the previous decision of £50,000 was appropriate. This week's ruling has increased Heather's entitlement to a total of £163,000.
The award was split into the cost of acquiring her housing association home along with the sum of £20,000. Lady Justice Arden said that Heather's mother had been "unreasonable, capricious and harsh" and for that reason ruled that she should receive a greater proportion of the estate.
It has always been a fundamental concept of the law in England and Wales that a person making a Will can leave their estate to whomever they wish. There has always been a restriction on this by way of legislation known as the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The Act provides that when making a Will you must make reasonable financial provision for a certain category of parties which includes spouses and children. The Courts for many years have wrestled with what constitutes "reasonable financial provision" for adult children.
There is a lesson to be learnt from this recent Court of Appeal case. If a parent wishes to disinherit their children when writing their Will, then they need to be able to demonstrate what connects them to the people or organisations they have included in their Will instead of their children. The fact that there appeared to be no connection between Mrs Jackson and the RSPB, RSPCA and the Blue Cross was one of the factors that influenced the Court's decision.
There is always the alternative available to the parent, they spend their money during their lifetime!
The three charities were said to be "surprised and disappointed" by the Court's decision. Legacies account for nearly £2 billion a year of charities' income in the UK. There are clearly therefore wider implications for the Charity Sector as a whole. This may therefore not be the end of the story. We must watch this space to see if there is a further appeal to the Supreme Court.