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Charities win appeal at the Supreme Court in landmark Ilott inheritance case

Three animal charities have won a case at the Supreme Court against a women cut out of her mother’s £500,000 Will. 

Melita Jackson’s Will explicitly disinherited her estranged daughter, Heather Ilott, and left her entire £500,000 estate to the three charities to whom she had no direct link. However, under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependents) Act 1975, which is designed to give children reasonable provision, Mrs Ilott claimed that she had not been provided for in her mother’s Will. 

In 2007, she was awarded £50,000 and immediately applied for a larger share of the estate which resulted in a High Court Judge reversing the original decision.  Four years later, the Court of Appeal ruled that Mrs Ilott was entitled to a share of the money after all, but in 2014 she lost her battle to gain more than the £50,000 that had originally been awarded.

In July 2015, a judge ruled that she should receive a larger share of the money, approximately £160,000.  Her financial status and limited income were important facts in the Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn the Will.

This meant that the three charities, who were the main beneficiaries of the Will, decided to challenge the decision in the Supreme Court, which they won this week.  Mrs Ilott’s share of the estate has now reduced to £50,000, with the remainder passing to the charities in equal share.

Supreme Court justices were told that the appeal against that increase had been brought by the animal charities “largely on principle” because of the possible impact on other cases, and “some arrangements” (not disclosed in court) had been made with Mrs Ilott in the event of the appeal succeeding. 

Andrea Pierce, Legal Services Director at Kings Court Trust, commented; “Given the potential impact of the Ilott case on charitable legacies, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Supreme Court ruled in their favour. This case has raised concerns about people’s freedom to disinherit their children as previously it was only possible to appeal against such a Will if the child could show that they had been financially reliant on the deceased family member, so estranged children were excluded. 

With the number of contentious probate cases increasing consistently in the last 12 months, cases like this illustrate that is as important as ever to review a Will on a regular basis to confirm it is still valid and to reduce the risk of decisions being contested upon death.

Unfortunately, we see far too many estates that are beset by disagreements between beneficiaries which delay the distribution of the estate and obviously cause great stress to the family members at an already difficult time. Therefore, ensuring that your Will is clearly and professionally written is vitally important to ensure that your estate is dealt with as smoothly as possible.”

Kings Court Trust offers a comprehensive estate administration service for a guaranteed fixed price.  For more information on our services or if you have any questions relating to the estate administration process, contact our client services team on 0300 303 9000.