Ilott v Mitson: The Supreme Court decision
Nathalie Stewart, a member of our Probate team reviews the long awaited Inheritance Act claim and the Supreme Courts judgement of Ilott v Mitson and Others and what it means to you.
The Ilott v Mitson case, which started back in 2007, involved a mother (Mrs Jackson) who deliberately chose to leave her estranged daughter (Mrs Ilott) out of her will and left the majority of her estate (about £500,000) to three charities instead.
Mrs Jackson also left a note in her will confirming she was excluding her daughter because of their estrangement.
There is a law called the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 that allows certain relatives to apply to court and request reasonable financial provision from the estate of the deceased if the estate did not provide for them.
Reasonable financial provision generally means maintenance, and before this case it was generally considered that adult children who were not financially dependent upon the deceased at the time of death could not expect to get a maintenance award under this Act.
Mrs Ilott pursued a claim under this Act.
Mrs Ilott had dependent children, lived off a modest income and state benefits which she relied on, and had general housing and living expense related financial needs.
The first court considered that although Mrs Jackson had set out that she wanted to exclude Mrs Illot from the will, the behaviour of Mrs Jackson had not been reasonable, there were moral obligations from a mother to a daughter.
Mrs Jackson didn’t have a strong connection to the charities and that her will had failed to make reasonable financial provision for her daughter.
The first court awarded £50,000 which Mrs Ilotts appealed was not enough and would compromise her state benefits.
Court of Appeal decision
The Court of Appeal increased the award to £143,000 to allow Mrs Illot to buy her home as well as a further £20,000 income. The charities appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court decision
The Supreme Court reverted to the original £50,000 and stated that the award had to be limited to maintenance. Maintenance by its nature was income.
It was not their view that housing would normally be provided by way of maintenance.
Instead, maintenance was about everyday expenses of living. They viewed the original judge made a reasonable decision and it shouldn’t be interfered with.
What this means for you
The position is that it is still hard for a parent to disinherit a child even when they have made their reasons for this very clear and in writing as Mrs Jackson had done in her will.
It is crucial therefore that when drawing up a will where the testator wants to exclude or limit the inheritance for a potential claimant, that thought and due consideration must be given towards the impact of the 1975 Act.
This case has assisted in showing how maintenance is calculated, but does not give much guidance on when an adult child can or should be able to claim in the first place when they have been deliberately excluded from a will.
The Supreme Court noted that the position was unsatisfactory and that each case will still need to be judged on its individual merits.
However, this judgement should make it difficult for dissatisfied adult claimants, who are living in “comfortable or modest circumstances”, to bring a successful claim under the 1975 Act.
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