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Your Will Could Be Challenged: Rejected Daughter Wins £164,000 Inheritance Case

Your Will Could Be Challenged: Rejected Daughter Wins £164,000 Inheritance Case

In a landmark legal ruling, senior judges have awarded an inheritance of £164,000 to a woman who had been cut of her late mother’s will. The ruling has raised fears that people’s right to leave money to those they want to inherit could be significantly weakened and highlighted the importance of having a proper legally binding will written up.

Charities favoured in the will

Melita Jackson had chosen to leave her £486,000 estate to three animal charities, the RSPCA, RSPB, and Blue Cross, when she passed away. However, her daughter Heather Ilott challenged the decision in court.

The court heard how Ms Jackson had never forgiven her daughter for eloping with a boyfriend when she was aged 17 and did not wish her to receive any of her estate. In a letter accompanying Ms Jackson’s 2002 will she wrote: “I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate. I have made it clear to my daughter that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die.”

Mother's will successfully challenged in eight-year legal battle

Mrs Jackson’s passing ultimately led to an eight-year legal battle which saw Mrs Ilott use the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act to successfully challenge the will, and be awarded £50,000 on the grounds that she had been "unreasonably" excluded by her mother. Following the success Mrs Ilott then applied for a larger share of the inheritance, however that then led to a High Court judge reversing the decision to award to her in the first place.

Four years later (2011) the Court of Appeal ruled that Mrs Ilott was entitled to a share of the money after all, with the judges saying that it had been "unreasonable" of Mrs Jackson to cut her daughter out of her will in favour of charities to which she had no prior connection.

The appeal ruling led to Mrs Jackson once again going to High Court to seek a larger share of the inheritance. However, in March 2014 ruling a judge said although Mrs Ilott’s financial circumstances were “constrained and needy” £50,000 was the appropriate provision. A decision that Mrs Ilott successfully challenged in the Court of Appeal this month.

In this latest hearing, Lady Justice Arden ruled that Mrs Jackson had been "unreasonable, capricious and harsh" and ruled Mrs Ilott should receive a greater proportion of the estate in order to save from a life “on the breadline”.

Mrs Ilott, a mother of five, will use most of the money to buy her housing association home in Ware, Hertfordshire, with £20,000 left over to supplement her benefits.

The solicitor for the three charities has said they are now carefully considering whether or not to appeal to appeal to the Supreme Court. “Charities rely upon income from legacies and the outcome of this case could have serious ramifications for the future of the charity sector as a whole,” he commented.

A need to explain who you are leaving your money to in your will

Reflecting on the case, a spokesperson for the Law Society’s wills and equity committee comments: “This ruling is saying that while you can still disinherit your children, you are going to have to explain why and show connections with those you are leaving the money to. It is also very important because it seems to be making it easier for adult children to claim for reasonable financial provision in wills and has made the gap wider for them to do that.”

IBB's wills expert and partner, Jacqueline Almond commented:

"This ruling does not say that you have to leave your estate to your children, but if you wish to disinherit them, you will need to leave clear reasons why you have chosen not to make provision for them. It would appear that it is now easier for an adult child to make a successful claim for reasonable financial provision. However, this decision by the Court of Appeal does not open the floodgates to such claims and a Court is more likely to say that you have acted reasonably if your child has behaved in an abhorrent manner, for example, if they have financially abused you. Your child’s financial position is also going to be relevant. It will also be important to set out your connection to the beneficiaries that you are leaving your estate to."

Jacqueline Almond was interviewed on BB3 Counties to discuss the case. To listen to the interview please see below:

Protecting your wealth

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 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 visit wills, trusts and probate page for more information on how we can help you.