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It is your last will, or is it?

In the recent case of Ilott v Mitson the adult daughter of a deceased woman was awarded £164,000 from her mother’s estate even though there was no provision for her in the will and her mother had specifically stated that she did not want her daughter to inherit any of her money.

The Facts:

Heather Ilott was the only child of Mr & Mrs Jackson, born three months after her father was killed in an accident at work. Her father’s employer had made a substantial payment in compensation to her mother which she used to pay off the mortgage on the home. A large part of Mrs Jackson’s estate originated from this payment. When she was 17 years old Heather ran away from home to live with Mr Ilott, whom she later married and with whom she has five children. This led to an estrangement between mother and daughter lasting 26 years, although there were attempts at reconciliation.

The Law:

The claim was brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975, which confers the right on, among others, a child of the deceased to apply for an order if the will of the deceased or the intestacy rules do not make reasonable provision for him/her. An award to a child will be limited to cover their maintenance needs alone and so it is difficult for an adult child living independently to establish a case. However the maintenance award does not have to be paid in income payments and can instead be rolled into a lump sum as happened in this case. The Court must take into account the circumstances set out in the Act.

The Decision: 

In this case the Court was influenced by the lack of a connection between Mrs Jackson and any of the charities during her lifetime and by Mrs Jackson’s treatment of her daughter who in the Judge’s view “…had acted in an unreasonable, capricious and harsh way towards her only child”. However ultimately it was Mrs Ilott’s straitened circumstances which enabled her claim to succeed. She and her husband lived in a house rented from the housing association and relied on state benefits. At first instance the Judge awarded her a lump sum of £50,000. However this was overturned on appeal and she was awarded sufficient to enable her to buy the house she lived in under the right to buy scheme (thus assisting her maintenance as she would no longer have to pay rent) and provide her with £20,000 to provide a small amount of additional income.

This case serves to highlight the importance of legal expertise. Whether you wish to make a will or explore whether you have a claim in relation to someone else’s estate, seeking the right advice could make all the difference.

If you would like to discuss any issue relating to a dispute involving wills, trusts and estates, please call the author, Jacqui Forrest, on 01202 802807 or email us at  office@solomonslaw.co.uk.