Contentious Probate expert, Alexia Thomas, takes a look at the latest updates in the Ilott v The Blue Cross and Others.
"When Melita Jackson decided to disinherit her daughter Heather, she knew what she was doing, and her decision was clear. Now, following Melita’s death, the Supreme Court will decide whether it should abide by her wishes, or allow Heather to take her rightful inheritance?
Melita Jackson died in 2004. By her will, she left the majority of her estate – valued at £486,000 – to three charities. The will made no provision for Melita's only child, Heather Ilott. The mother and daughter had become estranged many years before and their attempts at reconciliation had failed.
Heather made an application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Act”) for reasonable financial provision from her late mother's estate. In 2007, she was successful and awarded £50,000. Heather appealed against the amount. In July 2015, the Court of Appeal set aside the previous award by substituting its own award of (a) £143,000, to enable Heather to purchase her housing association home, (b) the reasonable costs of the purchase, and (c) payments up to a maximum of £20,000, structured in a way that would allow Heather to preserve her state benefits.
The Supreme Court
The charities immediately appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. The issues for the Supreme Court to consider are:
- was the Court of Appeal wrong to set aside the award made at first instance on Heather’s claim under the Inheritance Act 1975?
- did the Court of Appeal err in its approach to the ‘maintenance’ standard under the 1975 Act?
- was the Court of Appeal wrong to structure an award under the 1975 Act in a way which allowed the respondent the preserve her entitlement to state benefits?
The special elements of this case are that the charities had not evidenced any real, competing need for the money, in contrast to the relatively low resources that Heather had at her disposal.
If it stands, this case is likely to encourage claims under the Act by adult children – particularly those who may have been reluctant to claim in the past because they were managing to survive, albeit on a frugal basis.
Above all, the case has emphasised that decisions under the 1975 Act are highly fact-specific.
This lack of clarity will continue to present a challenge for practitioners when trying to predict the outcome of a claim by a disappointed adult child and, more importantly, when trying to settle it.
The hearing by the Supreme Court is due to be heard on 12 December. An eagerly awaited update then to follow!"