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Claims by Adult Children under the Inheritance (Provision for Family Independence) Act 1975: ILOTT v MITSON

Claims by Adult Children under the Inheritance (Provision for Family Independence) Act 1975: ILOTT v MITSON

The court of appeal ruled on the case of Mrs Ilott who was left nothing under the will of her late mother, Mrs Jackson. The estate had a value just shy of £500,000 and the beneficiaries were three animal charities.

Mrs Ilott challenged the will, not as to its validity but rather seeking to bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 as an adult child. Historically, succeeding in a claim as an adult child has been challenging unless there is some moral obligation or that adult child has some sort of special needs or disabilities. Does the court of appeal’s decision this week make it any easier for adult children to succeed?

There are various case-specific factors in this matter which may well have added to the court of appeal’s decision:

It seems Mrs Jackson did not argue with her daughter and that they did not have any difference of opinion but rather, Mrs Jackson decided to exclude her daughter from her will on the basis that she did not like her son-in-law. The court considered that this was a capricious and harsh opinion for Mrs Jackson to have formed.

Although money was left to the animal charities, there was no evidence to show that Mrs Jackson had any real connection with those charities during her lifetime. The decision may, of course, have been quite different if, in order to make money available to Mrs Ilott, the court were forced to deprive other siblings of money which had been bequeathed to them by their parent.

Mrs Ilott was in some financial difficulty. She was and had been for some years in receipt of state benefits. She had five children although by the time the court of appeal came to make their decision only one of those children remained dependant. Nevertheless, the court concluded that as she had been a full-time mother, the chances of her returning to work and securing any income herself were negligible. She had no money which was probably extremely influential in the court’s decisions in this case.

A considerable amount of the arguments in the case centred around the level of the award rather than whether or not Mrs Ilott fulfilled the criteria i.e. did the will make appropriate financial provision for her. The earlier court had awarded a much lower sum which actually would have resulted in Mrs Ilott being in a far worse financial position than she was without any money at all to the extent it would have taken her off benefits but would have been insufficient for her to purchase property for occupation by herself and the family. The court of appeal assessed her needs taking into account the fact that any award other than a nominal award would result in her losing her benefit entitlement. In summary, although this case at first glance appears to be a change in approach to adult children of claimants under the Inheritance Act, on closer inspection, there are certain factors in the case which would not necessarily attach to the vast majority of adult children making such a claim. It remains to be seen in those circumstances whether the case has such an impact as the media are suggesting. What it does highlight is the importance of setting out clearly and in a reasoned manner why you are not making provision for a child or other person arguably potentially entitled under the terms of a will.

Challenging a will

For advice on challenging a will contact Amanda Melton, partner and expert on probate disputes today. Please call us 01494 790047. Alternatively please email amanda.melton@ibblaw.co.uk or complete the online form.