An Important Time to Review Your Will

06 August 2015

Author: Neil Bleakley
Practice Area: Private Client

N_bleakley

In a much publicised recent case, an estranged and disinherited daughter has succeeded in obtaining an award of £164,000.00 from her deceased mother’s estate.  This award represented approximately one third of the estate.

A Brief History

The mother, Melita Jackson, died in 2004 and in her Will divided her estate between various animal charities and made no provision for her daughter, Heather Ilott.

Heather Ilott made a claim under the English equivalent of our Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) (NI) Order 1979 arguing that her mother had failed to make reasonable financial provision for her.  Mother and daughter had been estranged for many years and Heather Ilot had not been maintained by her mother since she left home as a young woman. 

Heather Ilot was a woman of modest means and income and it was largely on this basis that she claimed against her mother’s estate. 

Needless to say the claim was opposed by the charities and there has been a long running Court battle ever since Melita Jackson’s death. 

At the first Court hearing (2007) Heather Ilot was awarded the sum of approximately £50,000.00.  At a second Court hearing (2009) Heather Ilot’s claim was dismissed.  On yet another appeal (2011), the award to Heather Ilot was restored.  Now, in 2015, the award to Heather Ilot has been increased to £164,000.00. 

The charities may yet appeal this decision by the Court of Appeal.

Part of the judgment by the Court of Appeal referred to Heather Ilot’s resources, even when combined with state benefits, as being at such a basic level that they outweighed the importance normally attached to the fact that she was an adult child living independently for many years prior to her mother’s death.

Possible Practical Implications

Quite apart from very interesting implications connected to the UK legal principle of freedom of testamentary disposition, there are a number of potential practical implications, a sampling of which are highlighted below:-

  1. Before now it has generally been viewed as very difficult for an adult child living independently of a deceased parent to successfully argue that reasonable financial provision has not been made for him/her.  This judgment might offer hope to just such a disappointed beneficiary;
  2. If parents are thinking of disinheriting a child or unevenly distributing their estate between their children, then they may wish to clearly articulate their rationale for doing so;
  3. If parents are making distributions to charities in their Wills (especially meaningful distributions vis-à-vis the overall size of the estate and where such distributions are at the expense of the children) then they may wish to clearly state their connection to the charities.

Action

We encourage our clients to regularly review their Wills and we would often suggest that a useful time to do so is if there have been meaningful changes in personal or financial circumstances.

However, this case illustrates that it is also important to review a Will if there has been a significant legal development.

Some of our clients might therefore view this as an opportune moment to review their existing Wills.  Furthermore, if you have not made a Will at all, this might be an opportunity to do just that.

Whether reviewing an existing Will, or implementing a Will for the first time, or indeed should it be of interest to you to simply discuss matters relevant to your estate, our firm’s private client team would be pleased to assist.

Our private client team has extensive skill and experience in advising on such matters.  Please contact Neil Bleakley or Fiona Wallace if you would wish to explore further.

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