Wills experts have said a highly publicised ruling by the Court of Appeal to award a woman £164,000 from her estranged mother’s estate, despite being left out of the will, is in line with the law.
After a court battle lasting almost a decade, the court overrode Melita Jackson’s will, which left her £500,000 estate to animal charities and expressly stated she did not want her daughter to receive anything.
The appeal court granted Heather Ilott a third of her mother’s estate on the grounds that IIott had not been given ‘reasonable financial provision’ in the will.
Lady Justice Arden found that otherwise Ilott would face poverty, and her straitened circumstances meant that she had never had a holiday, had difficulty affording food for her five children, and could only afford old or second-hand clothes.
Arden said that Ilott’s resources, which included an annual household income of under £7,000 and benefits of around £13,000 ‘are at such a basic level that they outweigh the importance that would normally be attached to the fact that the appellant is an adult child who has been living independently for so many years’.
She also noted that Jackson had no connection with the charities she had left her money to.
‘The appellant, on the other hand, was the only child of the deceased and she was deprived of any expectation primarily because Mrs Jackson had acted in an unreasonable and capricious and harsh way towards her child.’
Richard Frimston, partner and head of the private client group at London firm Russell-Cooke, said the ruling was a ‘very sensible and reasonable decision’, which will attract ‘a lot of unreasonable argument’.
‘The popular myth is that there is a testamentary freedom in England and Wales. Testators are however always under various restrictions,’ he told the Gazette, adding that if there are good reasons to exclude an adult child from a will and the beneficiaries are closely connected to the testator there should be no problem.
Jeremy Groeger-Wilson, a partner at Kent firm Clarkson, Wright and Jakes, who specialises in wills, agreed the ruling was consistent with the law under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
‘Regardless of what the individual does in his will, it can be overturned if it doesn’t leave financial provision to their children,’ he said.
But another national firm said that although the ruling does not change the law, the way the dispute has been handled and the amounts involved send out a message of what is intended which could pave the way for further disputes.
Paula Myers, a lawyer at Irwin Mitchell specialising in will disputes, said: ‘This ruling means people can still disinherit their children, but they will have to have a good reason why and be able to explain what connects them to the people or organisations that they have included in their wills instead.
‘This means that adult children who have been left out of wills may find it easier to challenge them if they have not been left a reasonable provision… the increase in the amount the court has awarded to Mrs Ilott sends out a message about how importantly the judges view this issue.’