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  • Wills – the saga of Ilott v Mitson

    Wills – the saga of Ilott v Mitson

    You may have read about the case of Ilott v Mitson in the newspapers during the last 10 years.  After a long battle in the Courts, the case has finally reached a conclusion.

    The case involved Heather Ilott, who was left nothing from the estate of her mother, Melita Jackson. They had been estranged for many years since Heather moved out of the family home to live with her boyfriend, whom her parents did not approve of.  At the time of her mother’s death, Heather and her boyfriend had married and had five children.  She did not work as she had five children to take care of, her husband worked, but they relied on state benefits and rented their home from the local housing association.

    Melita’s estate was worth £486,000 and was left to three animal charities with no provision for Heather or her family.

    Heather made an application to the Court for an Order under s2 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for reasonable financial provision from the estate.  At the first hearing in 2007, the Judge awarded Heather £50,000, which she was not happy with and appealed.  The charities also appealed as they did not agree that Heather should receive anything, as this was against the wishes of her mother.

    In 2009, a further hearing took place, and the Judge agreed with the charities and ordered that Heather receive nothing. Heather appealed and in March 2011, the Court of Appeal allowed her appeal and sent the case back to another Judge to decide.  The case was finally heard in October 2013 and Judgement was provided in March 2014.  The Judge decided that Heather should receive £50,000, as was originally ordered in 2007.

    Heather appealed again and in 2015, the Court of Appeal decided that she should have £143,000 to buy her home from the housing association and £20,000 (a sum which would not affect her right to claim benefits).

    Of course the charities did not like this decision, so they appealed to the Supreme Court. The case was heard in December 2016 and the judgement was recently published.

    The Supreme Court agreed with the charities, and allowed their appeal. The Court agreed with the original Judgement providing Heather with £50,000.  The Supreme Court gave some guidance for future cases:

    1. The Court of Appeal had not given sufficient weight to the mother’s clear wishes. She did not want Heather to benefit from her estate and this should have been taken into account.
    2. The Court of Appeal had also not given sufficient weight to the long estrangement between the parties. Whilst Heather had clear financial needs, the Court also emphasised that many charities rely on bequests.
    3. The level of maintenance awarded should be the provision of income rather than capital, although this can be capitalised. However, ‘maintenance’ might include a car, refurbishment of a home or a life interest in a property.
    4. For any Claimant who is not a spouse, they will probably need to show a moral claim as well as the need for maintenance.
    5. The Court has to consider what effect a judgment will have on state benefits.

    So, what should you do if you want to exclude a child or other family member from your Will? Seek legal advice and provide your Solicitor with clear reasons why you wish to exclude someone or provide a smaller share to a beneficiary.  You may also wish to leave a letter to your Executors explaining matters.


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