You may be under the impression that you are free to decide how, on your death, you want your hard earned wealth distributed. While that is a starting point, it does not always follow that your wishes will be followed through.
This fact has recently come to the attention of the mainstream news channels which have covered the Court of Appeal decision in Ilott v Mitson & Ors 2015 (see for example BBC news) where, following protracted Court proceedings, Mrs Ilott was awarded a significant share in her mother’s (Mrs Melita Jackson’s) estate despite the fact that she had been deliberately cut out of the Will and had been estranged from her mother for 26 years.
Back in 2011 we wrote about this case as (read here), at that point, the Court of Appeal had determined the important principle that a child of the deceased had a claim to a share in the deceased’s estate even where that child was (at the date of death) an adult and not being financially supported by the deceased. That decision was not appealed to the Supreme Court and, as such, it stands as legal precedent in support of potential claims by disinherited children.
The latest Court of Appeal decision relates to the amount that Mrs Ilott should receive out of her mother’s estate. Back in 2007 she had originally been awarded £50,000. In 2011, the Court of Appeal had referred that issue back to the High Court, although it urged the parties to try and reach a settlement. In 2014, the High Court decided that the original award should not be revised, but now the Court of Appeal has said that the award was too low. Mrs Ilott will now receive £164,000 out of an estate that was valued (on Mrs Jackson’s death) at almost £500,000. While that sum has been reported as (and is) broadly 1/3rd of Mrs Jackson’s estate, much of the latest judgment goes through the process of applying the relevant factors to the facts in this particular this case, in order to determine the final award.
The case again underlines the need for anyone wishing to exclude a close relative from a Will, or limit that relative’s inheritance, to get professional advice prior to making their Will. It also offers hope to those who have been disinherited, but in that respect they should also seek professional advice – and do so very promptly after the testator’s death because there are strict and short time limits for making claims.