Supreme court confirms wills cannot be simply rewritten just because a child is disinherited

A LANDMARK legal battle resulting in three animal charities winning a case at the Supreme Court against a woman cut out of her mother’s will is going to impact on future inheritance claims, says Setfords Solicitors consultant solicitor Samantha Lowe. 

The final judgement on Ilott v Mitson was handed down last week after a decade of litigation.

Heather Ilott was awarded more than £160,000 by the Court of Appeal after her mother Melita Jackson left most of her £486,000 estate to the RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross.

Mrs Ilott from Hertfordshire had been awarded £50,000, which was later tripled, but the animal charities challenged that increase and it has now been ruled she will receive only the original £50,000.

The court heard that Mrs Ilott’s father died before she was born and she fell out with her mother, Melita Jackson, after leaving home at the age of 17 to live with her boyfriend, Nicholas Ilott, whom she later married.

The mother and daughter never reconciled and by the time Mrs Jackson died in 2004 at the age of 70, she’d excluded her daughter from benefiting from her estate worth approximately £486,000 in favour of the three animal charities.

Mrs Ilott, who is in her 50s, made her initial appeal under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for “reasonable financial provision” from her mother’s estate as when the original £50,000 ruling was made she had no pension and was living on state benefits.

“The Supreme Court has now overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal which went too far,” said Mrs Lowe who is based in Middlesbrough and offers specialist litigation and mediation services to settle similar inheritance disputes.

“The court is not there to rewrite a will simply because a disinherited adult believes that they should receive a benefit. Although the court is still awarding a sum of £50,000 to Mrs Illot, it is making clear that this is an unusual case for an claim brought by an adult child and it is on the facts of this case that the decision is made. Whether or not her mother’s actions were reasonable in disinheriting her is not the main question. The main question is whether the outcome of the will makes reasonable financial provision in all of the circumstances.”

Mrs Lowe expalined: “As a mediator and a solicitor with 10 years’ experience of these claims, it is key that disputes of this nature consider mediation at the earliest opportunity.

“Legal costs can soon swamp the value of the estate over which everyone is fighting and the only winners will be lawyers.

“Mediating at an early stage allows the parties to engage with each other in a confidential and flexible environment, to allow each other’s views be heard and if necessary heartache to be listened to.”

She added: “The reality, when faced with a claim, is that costs and emotions will run high and if litigation is pursued then they will only increase. Trying to nip these in the bud at an early stage is key to everyone moving on with their lives.

“On the flip side if one or both parties are adamant that settlement is not possible then the only way forward is to let the courts impose a decision on them.”

Guy Setford
Samantha Lowe
Consultant Solicitor, Setfords Solicitors

If you’d like more information on the impact on future inheritance claims contact Samantha Lowe.