There has been a lot of publicity over the Ilott v Mitson Case in the national press since the Court of Appeal awarded Heather Ilott £164,000 from her late mother’s Will. The case itself has been making its way through the legal system for the best part of a decade.
In the case of Ilott v Mitson  the Court of Appeal upheld the original County Court decision of a District Judge, to allow an adult, nondependent child, to bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. This Act allows people who were either relatives of, or dependent upon, the deceased, to bring a claim for reasonable financial provision, from a person’s estate, where they can show that they have not been sufficiently provided for.
After a decade-long legal fight with three animal welfare charities over her mother’s decision to cut her out of any inheritance, Heather Ilott was finally been awarded £164,000 by senior judges. The background to the case is that of a classic family dispute. Heather Ilott had fallen out with her mother Melita Jackson after leaving home when she was just 17 years old, and eloping with her boyfriend, and the mother and daughter shared little contact thereafter. Jackson then died aged 70, in 2004 and her estate was valued at around £486,000. In her Will, Mrs. Jackson had left everything to three animal welfare charities: The Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Mrs Ilott subsequently sought provision from Mrs Jackson’s estate and brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (‘the 1975 Act’) on the basis that she was receiving state benefits and needed the money. Notably, at this time Mrs Ilott (a mother of 5) had not worked since the birth of her eldest son, whilst her husband claimed he was unable to work due to back problems.
In 2007, the Court awarded Mrs Ilott £50,000 after it decided that reasonable financial provision had not been made for Mrs Ilott from the estate. Mrs Ilott then appealed to the Court of Appeal where the lower Court’s most recent decision was overturned. In the process, the Court of Appeal said it was Parliament’s intent in passing the 1975 Act that an adult child should be able to bring a claim ‘even if it was possible for him or her to subsist without making a claim on the estate’. Mrs Ilott appealed again, once more on the basis that the award was insufficient, and maintained that £50,000 was insufficient to buy her a house from the housing association, however the Court of Appeal rejected her argument on the basis that the award could only be varied if the original district judge was wrong in law or been unreasonable. Mrs Ilott appealed again and this time was successful in having her award increased. The sum awarded – roughly two thirds of the estate – will allow her to buy her house from the housing association, whilst also retaining her means-tested benefits.
Some in the charity sector are worrying that this ruling may set a precedent; that charitable beneficiaries have no expectation of inheritance where the deceased had no obvious connection with them. Therefore the charities themselves will be less likely to successfully inherit money from the deceased if their living relatives contest the will.
Edward Pennington, Head of the Private Client team at rhw believes that “the case certainly asks some interesting questions of the accepted sanctity of the wishes of those that have departed. However there were some very specific circumstances surrounding this case in terms of there being limitations on the claimant’s (and her partner’s) ability to work and support themselves. Successful claims by able bodied adult beneficiaries are and always have been rare.” He goes on to add “that claims under the 1975 Act will continue to take account of all beneficiaries and their financial needs relative to the claimant and all other relevant circumstances. There is no clear new precedent set by this case in our view”
The Court of Appeal’s latest decision may have created some moderate fears in the charities sector and a few furrowed brows amongst professionals but odd cases like this have always cropped up now and then. Where money and families mix you will often find disputes.
To mitigate the risk of a challenge after you die, you should always seek professional advice when writing a will from an experienced and trained solicitor.
If you need more information on this case or advice on any other private client matter please contact rhw’s private client team on 01483 302000 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org