On the 15th of March 2017, a judgement was handed down on a litigation case which has been ongoing for a decade. This case marked the first time that a case under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 reached the highest court in England and Wales.
The case involved Mrs Ilott, the daughter of Mrs Jackson, who passed away in 2004. The mother and daughter did not have a close relationship; in fact, since Mrs IIott was in her late teens, following her decision to leave the family home to reside with her future husband, the two ladies had been in very little contact and, in fact, lived very separate lives. On her death, Mrs Jackson’s will made no provision for her daughter and instead left her estate to various charities. Mrs IIott, who was not financially well-off, chose to challenge the will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 on the basis that there had been a failure to make reasonable provisions for her under the will.
The case was presented before a judge six times;
1. On the first occasion, on the 7th of August 2007, it was held that the will had failed to make reasonable provision for Mrs IIott, and she was awarded £50,000 as capitalised reasonable maintenance.
2. The above was appealed by both Mrs IIott, who believed she should be entitled to a larger sum, and the charities, who believed that Mrs IIott should not be entitled to the £50.000. The appeal was allowed, and Mrs IIott was awarded £0.
3. Mrs IIot then appealed the above, and the Court of Appeal held in her favour, and the amount of money would be decided by the Family Division.
4. The Family Division dismissed the appeal, and Mrs IIott’s £50,000 still stood.
5. Mrs IIott appealed again on the grounds that the judge should not take account of her state benefits. The judge held that the award should not be limited due to the distant relationship and that Mrs IIott’s benefit entitlement should be considered. Accordingly, she was awarded £143,000 to buy her housing association property and £20,000 to be invested for supplementary income so that this would not affect her benefits.
6. The charities then appealed the above, and on the 15th of March 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal, setting aside the award of £163,000 and upholding the original award from a decade earlier of £50,000.
What does this mean going forward?
Provisions under a will for anyone other than a spouse or a partner are for maintenance only, and the level of maintenance can be decided on a case-by-case basis. Although the courts may look at the financial positions of any claimants under a will, there are no specific rules governing the amounts which should be awarded.
Most importantly, the judgement, in this case, holds that the wishes expressed in a will should be considered by the court in any case. The courts previously were criticised for not giving consideration to the long period of time in which Mrs IIott and Mrs Jackson were not in communication or contact with each other and that it had been Mrs Jacksons’ wish not to benefit her daughter.
If you are considering challenging a will, then as a claimant, it is your responsibility to evidence that the will failed to make provision for you where you believe provision should have been made.
Rebecca O’Donnell, Head of our Private Client Department, has vast experience in Estate Litigation; if you would like to discuss your matter with Rebecca, please call 01457 761 320 or email email@example.com.