A recent Court of Appeal decision in an inheritance ruling could weaken people’s right to leave money to those they choose.
Heather Ilott from Hertfordshire has just been awarded £164,000, roughly one third of her mother’s estate, after a long-running legal battle against her mother’s express desire to exclude Heather from her will.
Heather’s mother, Melita Jackson, excluded her estranged daughter Heather from her will and instead left her £450,000 estate to three charities. Heather made a claim, under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, for reasonable financial provision from her mother’s estate.
The Act was originally interpreted to permit successful claims by minor children or those in particular financial need, but recent years have seen successful claims by adult children, not in particular financial need, where reasonable financial provision has not been made for them in their parent’s will.
Despite her mother’s express wishes that her daughter should not receive anything from her estate, Heather was initially awarded £50,000 in 2007. The Court of Appeal has just increased the figure to £164,000 saying that Mrs Jackson had acted in an ‘unreasonable, capricious and harsh’ way to her daughter.
These types of claim are becoming more common as the definition of ‘reasonable financial provision’ is a value judgment, which means they are difficult to assess with certainty.
We advise that anyone wishing to ensure that their estate passes to their intended beneficiaries without challenge, take a careful and considered approach to their will.
The ruling means that if you wish to disinherit your children you will have to explain your reasons for doing so, to prevent the likelihood of a successful challenge.
Ideally you should provide your detailed reasons for the provisions in your will in a separate document. For example, set out the connections that may exist with particular charities mentioned in your will or, where the will provides for an unequal distribution between children, the justification for doing so.
Whatever your circumstances, we strongly advocate seeking the advice of a specialist solicitor when preparing your will to make sure that your wishes are safeguarded.
This landmark ruling could open the floodgates for many more of these types of claim. Those that haven’t taken appropriate measures before their death risk losing the freedom to choose who receives their estate when they die.
If you would like to discuss any of these issues with a member of our Private Client team please call us to arrange an initial 30-minute consultation, free of charge or use the contact us page.