A much awaited judgment that went against a women who challenged her late mother’s decision to leave her out of her will in favour of three charities was ‘something of a damp squib’, though lessons can still be learned from it, a professional event heard today.
Speaking at the annual conference of national organisation Solicitors for the Elderly, Lesley King, a professor at the University of Law, outlined what beneficiaries and testators could take from the judgment.
She said although much of the judgment was fairly routine the biggest lesson to take from Ilott v The Blue Cross and Ors was that appellate courts should be ‘slow to interfere’ with a trial judge’s initial ruling.
The case culminated at the Supreme Court in March this year after a fight spanning a decade. It centred on Heather Ilott, who had been excluded from her mother Melita Jackson’s will.
Jackson left the majority of her estate, worth around £500,000, to the Blue Cross, the RSPCA and the RSPB. She had excluded her daughter after she left home with a boyfriend as a 17-year-old.
Ilott challenged the will under the Inheritance Act 1975 and was awarded £50,000. Both parties appealed: Ilott claimed she had not been awarded enough while the charities said there was no lack of reasonable provision in the judgment.
On appeal, Ilott, who is in her fifties, was awarded £143,000 - to buy the rented home she was living in - plus an extra £20,000 for additional income. The Court of Appeal said Ilott was not given a reasonable provision in the will. The Supreme Court judgment struck out that ruling and restored the original ruling awarding Ilott £50,000.
Reviewing the case today, King said charities would be pleased with the ruling as it ’takes into account their needs and that we should take testators’ wishes seriously’.
‘The [Supreme Court’s] comments said charities are reliant on legacies and you should take into account the effect it would have on them if you take that award away,’ she told delegates.
She added that the judgment made it clear that adult children should be entitled to maintenance but that it should not necessarily extend to reasonable financial provision.
Also today, David Sinclair was appointed as the organisation’s new chair. Sinclair is co-founder of Acorn Solicitors in Taunton, specialising in wills, probate and powers of attorney. He replaces Justine Clowes who stepped down after three years.
SFE is a national organisation of solicitors, barristers, and chartered legal executives who provide advice for older and vulnerable people, their families and carers.