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Supreme Court to Hear Inheritance Dispute

Supreme Court to Hear Inheritance Dispute

Challenging a will following disinheritance

A trio of animal charities appealing against a ruling that redirected part of a legacy donation to the benefactor’s daughter have been granted permission to take their case to the Supreme Court in a hearing that should help clarify the law around wills for grown-up children who feel they have been badly treated.

The animal welfare charities will appeal a judge’s earlier decision to override Melita Jackson's will, which disinherited her only daughter and left her entire £500,000 estate to the three charities.

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Charities question lower court's ruling

Melita Jackson left her entire estate to the Blue Cross, RSPB and RSPCA animal charities, but after her death in 2007, her estranged daughter Heather Ilott challenged the will, claiming she had been unreasonably excluded.

She was initially awarded £50,000 under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 on the basis that her mother had not left reasonable provision for her maintenance. She appealed and, in July 2015, her share of the estate was more than trebled to £163,000.

The Court of Appeal said that Mrs Jackson had acted in a “unreasonable, capricious and harsh way towards her only child” and ruled Mrs Ilott should receive a greater proportion of the estate in order to save from a life “on the breadline”.

Mrs Ilott's financial difficulties and limited income were important factors in the Court of Appeal decision to overturn the will, but there has been concern about the implications of the decision on people's freedom to disinherit their children.

The original lower court decision sets a precedent for grown-up children in financial hardship who have been excluded from a family member's will. Previously it was only possible to appeal if reliance on the deceased family member could be demonstrated – so estranged children were excluded.

The charities are now questioning the appeal court’s approach to the case and how the judge calculated the amount received by Mrs Ilott. They hope to restore Mrs Ilott's award from the estate from £160,000 to £50,000, the original figure awarded to her in 2007.

Probate disputes increasingly common

The case before the Supreme Court, which could be heard later this year, will be keenly watched because it will help to define rules on claims of grown-up children relating to inheritance and wills, especially where non-family members are involved.

A growing number of legal challenges are being brought under the 1975 Inheritance Act, which stipulates that “reasonable financial provision” must be made in a parent’s will for the “maintenance” of child. This definition is now increasingly being applied to adult offspring.

Surging property prices and an increase in the number of second marriages is leading to an increase in disputes, lawyers say. According to the Ministry of Justice, the High Court heard 178 probate disputes in 2014, almost twice the total of 97 in the previous year, and the highest level in England and Wales since 2007.

Protecting your wealth

While the rules of intestacy can produce unexpected distributions after an individual’s death, which can result in family disagreements, they can be avoided by drafting a will. Wills allow an individual to set out exactly who they would like to bequeath, including close friends and charities who are not covered at all in the intestacy rules.

Drawing up a will is the best way to ensure that your wishes are carried out as you intended after you’ve gone. A will also protects your loved ones and family and minimises the financial worry during what is an upsetting and stressful time. At IBB Solicitors, our wills, trusts and probate solicitors are here to help you plan for your family’s future.

Contact IBB's experienced wills and trusts solicitors today to discuss your inheritance tax and estate planning issue. Call us today on 01494 790002 or email jacqueline.almond@ibblaw.co.uk. Alternatively please visit the wills, trusts and probate page for more information on how we can help you.

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