Disinheriting your children - the Supreme Court speaks out

Judgment was handed down this week in Heather Ilott’s battle in the Supreme Court involving her claim against her late mother’s Estate. Mrs Ilott had been disinherited and was doing battle with charities that her mother had chosen to be beneficiaries under her will. The case had been on-going for almost a decade.

Mrs Illot claimed that her late mother, Mrs Jackson, did not make provision for her under her last will. They had been estranged for 26 years since the young Mrs Illot had left home as a teenager to move in with her boyfriend, a man her mother did not approve of, and who she subsequently married and with whom she had five children.

Mrs Jackson had made two wills, neither of which left anything for her daughter. Instead, Mrs Jackson left the majority of her £486,000 Estate to numerous animal charities, including Blue Cross, RSPB and RSPCA. She did not have any connection to these charities throughout her life, so the provision was unexpected.

Mrs Illot brought a claim against the Estate of her mother under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for reasonable financial provision. At first instance, the County Court found that Mrs Jackson had acted in an unreasonable manner towards her daughter and awarded her £50,000 out of the Estate.

Mrs Illot appealed that decision and the Court then increased that sum to £143,000, which would enable her to buy her Housing Association home, and to afford to pay an additional £20,000 by way of outgoings. Mrs Illot was in receipt of benefits and so the award was structured in a way that would avoid affecting her entitlement to state benefits.

The charities were then granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, on the basis that the Court of Appeal was wrong to set aside the original award, that it had erred in its interpretation of the 1975 Act, and was wrong to structure the award to enable Mrs Illot to preserve her entitlement to benefits.

On 15 March 2017, the Supreme Court handed down Judgment to confirm that the decision by the County Court had been correct, and re-awarded Mrs Illot the sum of £50,000.

The Court took the opportunity to remind prospective claimants that the factors taken into account are listed in Section 3 of the 1975 Act. Where the applicant is not the spouse or partner of the deceased, reasonable financial provision is limited to what would be reasonable for the person to receive for maintenance only.

The impact of such a Judgment is yet to be known, but it should provide adult children seeking to challenge their parents’ wills with some solace if they do not believe they have been left with reasonable provision. Even though the sum was eventually reduced, Mrs Illot was provided with some provision and therefore it should not deter adult children from making a claim where they have grounds to do so.