Wills – claims by adult children after Ilott v Mitson

Claims by adult children to set aside a parent’s Will could increase dramatically.

The case of Ilott v Mitson 2015 CA, is causing quite a stir since the recent judgement by the Court of Appeal. There’s speculation the impact of the court’s decision could lead to more claims by adult children attempting to challenge their parents’ Wills.

In the Ilott v Mitson case, Mrs Melita Jackson deliberately excluded her daughter from her Will, following a rift between the two of them decades before. Mrs Jackson died in 2004 and left nearly £500,000 to three charities, the RSPCA, the RSPB and Blue Cross.

The Court of Appeal has decided that her daughter, Heather Ilot should be allowed to receive £143,000 from her late mother’s estate.

Why did the court overturn the Will?

Mrs Ilott brought a claim for financial provision from her mother’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Under the Act, a child of a deceased person has a right to apply to the courts for an order for reasonable financial provision.

Although the Act allows an adult child to make a claim against a parent’s estate it doesn’t automatically give the child the right to receive anything from the estate. It is for the court to decide on the evidence presented whether an order for financial provision should be made.

Until now it has typically been difficult for an adult child to convince the court to re-distribute the assets of the deceased in the child’s favour. The courts have been reluctant to override the wishes of the deceased parent.

The 1975 Act defines “reasonable financial provision” in the case of a child making a claim as:

“such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the applicant to receive for his maintenance.”

The Court of Appeal in the Ilot case had to decide what would be reasonable maintenance for Heather Ilot in the circumstances. It took into account her situation. She has five children, lives on state benefits in rented housing and has no pension arrangements.

No previous connection with the charities

The court also took into account that Mrs Mitson had no previous connection with any of the three charities named in her Will. It is this aspect of the court’s decision that has caused perhaps the greatest interest because of the implications for future cases where a deceased person has left their estate outside of their family.

The court looked at the whole circumstances of the parties involved and couldn’t find a strong enough reason to uphold Mrs Mitson’s Will in favour of the charities because she hadn’t previously been involved in supporting them or their work.

Impact of the case in the future

Following the Ilott v Mitson case people will still be able to cut their family out of their Wills if they choose, but their children and possibly even former spouses may find it easier to challenge those Wills unless good reasons can be shown why the deceased chose to benefit another party instead of their own family members.

The case highlights the importance of taking appropriate legal advice on the potential risks of claims by adult children or other relatives brought under the 1975 Inheritance Act. In the future, it may well be easier for adult relatives to succeed in challenging Wills they don’t like.

It will also be important for anyone who intends to leave all their assets or a large part of their estate to charities to establish some sort of connection with those charities during their lifetime, such as proof of lifetime donations.

The three charities involved in the Ilott v Mitson case might decide to appeal against the decision made by the Court of Appeal but for the time being everyone needs to take a more cautious approach when excluding relatives from their Wills.

About the author Rosamund Evans

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