The Supreme Court unanimously allows charities’ appeal on the question of reasonable provision for an estranged adult child in Ilott v The Blue Cross & Ors (otherwise known as the Ilott v Mitson case).
Last week the Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeal had acted wrongly in setting aside the award made at first instance to Heather Ilott in her claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependant’s) Act 1975 (“the Act”). The District Judge had made neither of the two errors on which the Court of Appeal relied and as such, had no proper basis for making its increased award. The award was therefore set aside and the District Judge’s award of £50,000 reinstated.
Summary of background
Mrs Ilott made a claim for provision from the estate of her late mother, from whom she had been estranged for 26 years.
In the first instance the District Judge found the deceased’s Will did not make reasonable financial provision for Mrs Ilott and awarded her £50,000. She appealed against this award on the basis that it was too low and deprived her of means-tested benefits.
The Court of Appeal overturned the District Judge’s decision and awarded Mrs Ilott (i) £143,000 to buy the house in which she lived and (ii) an option to receive a further £20,000 in one or more instalments. The charities appealed.
This is the first time such a claim has been heard by the Supreme Court which recognised that the testator’s wishes should be given considerable weight. Beneficiaries, such as charities, chosen by a testator do not need to justify their claim either by need or by expectation.
Under the Act, adult children are only entitled to make a claim for maintenance. The Court determined that:
- maintenance is flexible and dependent on the facts of each case. If it involves the provision of accommodation, that should be limited to an interest in possession. Provision of an appreciating asset goes beyond maintenance.
- reasonable financial provision does not extend to any or everything which it would be desirable for a claimant to have.
- the claimant’s needs will not necessarily be the measure of an award under the Act.
- conduct, such as prolonged estrangement, is relevant but is only a factor that may justify rejecting a claim but will not necessarily do so.
The Court also took the opportunity to raise concerns about the adequacy of the existing legislation as it does not assist with the evaluation of such claims or how to balance the ‘section 3’ factors of the Act.
If you are considering leaving children out of your Will, it is important to get advice early to understand the options available to mitigate the risks of such a decision.
If you would like advice on making a Will or how to minimise the possibility of challenges to your Will please contact the Private Client team at Greenwoods Solicitors on 01733 887665.
Our Contentious Trusts and Estates team have considerable experience of bringing and defending claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Please contact Caroline Gumbrell on 01733 887745 for further information.