A daughter has failed in her claim for a larger part of her estranged mother’s £500,000 estate when the Supreme Court upheld a challenge by the animal charities named in the will.
This story starts in 1978 when 17 year old Heather Jackson, the daughter and only child of Melita Jackson, left home to live with her boyfriend who she later married. Now Heather Ilott, she has been married to her husband for over 50 years. It seems that Heather and Melita had not had an excellent relationship, and it worsened when Heather left home.
Melita Jackson took a very dim view of her daughter moving in with her boyfriend. In 1984, only 6 years after her daughter left home, she updated her Will to exclude Heather.
In 2004 Melita Jackson died at the age of 70 and, because they had never reconciled, she was true to her intentions and left her daughter nothing in her Will. Her estate of £486,000 was split between three animal charities – Blue Cross, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She was absolutely clear that she wanted no money to go to her daughter, and had said ‘expect no inheritance from me’. Before she died she wrote to her lawyers to say that her daughter should get no money, and instructed her Executors to fight any claim that her daughter might make after her death.
The Story So Far
Heather Ilott challenged this Will in 2007 under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. She was awarded £50,000 on the basis that there had been a failure to make reasonable financial provision for her in the Will. She applied for a larger share of the estate but was unsuccessful.
Not giving up, Heather Ilott went to the Court of Appeal which ruled that she was entitled to a larger share of the estate after all. The Court of Appeal ruled that Heather Illott should receive £143,000 to buy her rented property and a further payment of £20,000. At the time her mother’s actions were described as ‘unreasonable, capricious and harsh’, and her letter instructing that any claim by Heather be fought was described as ‘spiteful’. Part of Heather Ilott’s claim was that she has no pension and is living on state benefits.
That brings us to the current case in 2017.
The three animal charities who were the beneficiaries of the estate went to the Supreme Court to challenge the ruling of the Court of Appeal. They were concerned that the ruling would set a precedent; many charities receive a significant proportion of their income from legacies in wills. They were successful in their challenge – on 15th March 2017 the Supreme Court decided the original judgement was correct and upheld Heather Ilott’s original award of £50,000.
The charities have not acted without some compassion. Although not disclosed in court, the charities had said there would be ‘some arrangement’ with Heather Ilott should they succeed.
Why The Charities Won
The original District Judge awarded Heather £50,000 because Melita Jackson had not made a reasonable financial provision for her.
When this went to the Court of Appeal they increased the amount because the District Judge had made two errors: he had limited the award in the light of the long estrangement and Heather’s understanding that she would not receive any benefit in the Will, but didn’t say what the award would have been without those factors; and he had not considered the impact of the award on Heather’s benefits, which are means tested.
Because of that, the Court of Appeal re-evaluated the claim, and decided that an award for £143,000 to allow Heather to buy her house (which would not affect any means testing as your residence is disregarded) plus an option to receive £20,000 in one or more installments was reasonable.
However, the Supreme Court ruled that the District Judge had not made either of the two errors, so they set aside the Court of Appeal’s order and restored the District Judge’s. In fact, they said that the District Judge had worked through the appropriate factors in the relevant Act to reach his £50,000 award decision; and that the £50,000 would not necessarily impact Heather Ilott’s benefits as a portion could be used to replace worn household items, leaving the remaining amount below the £16,000 savings benefit threshold.
Lady Hale, one of the Supreme Court Justices, suggested that the current law is unsatisfactory. Perhaps this will lead to changes in the future, particularly around the weight that a court should give to the factors which determine if an adult child is deserving or underserving of reasonable maintenance. Lord Kerr and Wilson agree with her comments.
For now, it is clear – the wishes of the deceased as expressed in their will should be upheld. It’s also clear that it’s much better to find a way to get along and have a working relationship than to challenge a will in court after a parent has died.
How can we help?
We can help you prepare your will, which we strongly recommend – too many people die without a will, leading to lots of uncertainty, costs and delays for deceased’s family. When a family member dies we can help with probate, which is the process of proving a will in court so that the wishes expressed in the will can be executed. We can also act as executors for your wills.
About Taylor Bracewell
Taylor Bracewell operates from offices in Thorne Road and Ten Pound Walk in Doncaster and Fountain Precinct in Sheffield. Specialist areas are: Family Law, Business Law, Personal Law (including Wills, Probate, Trusts and Conveyancing), Dispute Resolution, HR & Employment Law, Charity Law.
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01302 341 414 in Doncaster or 0114 272 1884 in Sheffield.