Many will remember the case of the Ilott v Mitson that went to the Court of Appeal in 2011. The case was concerning the estate of Mrs Jackson who left her £486,000 estate to three charities. She left nothing to her daughter, Heather Ilott, who subsequently brought a claim against the estate.
Mrs Jackson had raised Heather on her own after her husband died and she worked throughout her life to pay the bills. The relationship between the two broke down when Heather ran away from home at age 17 with Nick Ilott, who she later married. Mrs Jackson is said to have disapproved of Heather’s choice in partner and in her lifestyle. The couple had 5 children and little resources. The family lived on state benefits and Heather never worked.
Heather Ilott first brought a claim in 2007 and was awarded £50,000 by the judge in the first instance. The district judge considered all of the circumstances including the size of the estate, the deceased’s wishes, the family background and the fact that Heather lived on benefits with 5 children to provide for. The award was designed to meet her income needs.
The claimant was not satisfied at that and brought an appeal in 2009, and in retaliation the charities launched a counter-appeal stating that she should receive nothing. The court found in favour of the charities and overturned Heather’s award of £50,000. Heather then brought a second appeal in 2011. In that instance the court found in her favour and reinstated the £50,000 that she had originally been awarded.
This judgement was a shock to the profession in that it awarded a sum to a healthy adult child, who had been financially independent for the whole of her adult life (albeit on state benefits), in circumstances where it was very clear that the deceased did not intend or want her daughter to benefit.
Mrs Ilott did not, however, stop there and the court has just given judgement on her latest appeal for a larger award. She argued that the original award of £50,000 did not provide her with any benefit because the effect was that her benefits were reduced. Claimants cannot receive means-tested benefits if they have capital in excess of £16,000, ignoring the value of the family home. Mrs Ilott therefor said any award was meaningless unless it was sufficient to buy a property she could live in. She therefore sought an award of £240,000 for this purpose. The court did not buy this argument, stating that this would be inappropriate and could not be the right approach in the circumstances. The judge agreed with the district judge in the first instance, who had balanced all of the relevant factors and come to an appropriate decision. The appeal was refused.
This will be a welcome decision to the many who believe in the right to leave your estate where you like. In addition, it would have been a rather unpopular decision with the general working population if someone was awarded a lump sum of £240,000 (to purchase a nice house) but then continued to claim benefits from the state!
Cases involving these sorts of claims for “reasonable provision” from a person’s Will are not black and white. Each case must be looked at in light of the facts and all of the circumstances taken into account. The Ilott v Mitson cases are interesting for the profession and this latest case confirms the court’s discretion to decide, in the circumstances, what a fair outcome is. Poor Mrs Jackson however, will be no doubt be turning in her grave at all of the litigation that has ensued since her death.
Myerson Solicitors LLP provide specialist advice relating to wills, probate, probate disputes, inheritance tax planning and powers of attorney to clients in Manchester and Cheshire.