This week The Court of Appeal has made an interesting ruling in the case of a disputed will, which may result in your wishes being ignored after your death!
The case concerned the estate of Melita Jackson who died in 2004, leaving an estate of almost £500,000. Save for a legacy of £5000 in favour of the BBC Benevolent Fund, she left her entire estate to RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross.
Mrs Jackson was a widow at the time of her death and had a single adult child, Heather Ilott. Mrs Ilott, now 54, challenged her mother’s will and asked the Court to consider awarding her financial provision from the estate, despite having been estranged from her mother for over 26 years at the date of her mother’s death.
Ilott and Jackson had a falling out when Mrs Jackson disapproved of Mrs Ilott’s now husband, when Ilott was 17 years of age. The relationship was never reconciled and Jackson chose to exclude Ilott from her will. Jackson left two letters explaining why she had decided to leave nothing to her daughter and secondly asking her executors to defend any claim that Ilott may bring.
The law surrounding inheritance provides for children, including independent adults, to apply for reasonable financial provision to be made for their maintenance, where no or inadequate provision has been made.
In deciding whether such provision should be made, you would expect your wishes to take precedence over any other factor. However, your wishes are only one of the factors that the Court will consider. The Court will also consider the financial needs and resources of the beneficiaries against the competing needs of the disgruntled claimant.
In this case, the Court considered that Jackson had failed to adequately provide reasonable financial provision for Ilott, who lives with her husband in rented property provided by a housing association, has no pension, and has very low income and relies on state benefits.
Taking this into consideration, the Court awarded her £143,000 to enable her to purchase the house in which she lives from the housing association, together with a payment of £20,000 in cash.
It is too early to predict the effect this ruling will have, but we expect it will lead to a rise in the number of wills being challenged. Equally, whilst we consider that this will not set a precedent, as each case will be considered on its unique facts, it does illustrate that your will is not bulletproof.
If you are considering disinheriting someone who would otherwise have expected to benefit from your estate, you should seek advice as to the steps you could take to avoid such a claim being made.
Equally, if you consider that reasonable financial provision should have been made for you, and it has not, then we would be happy to explore whether you could challenge the will in question.
For more information, email email@example.com.