Monday, 20 March 2017
Ilott v Mitson – Supreme Court Ruling
For the first time, the Supreme Court has heard a case involving legislation that was passed 42 years ago! The decision, which is said to support the principles of testamentary freedom, has been passed today. The unanimous judgement was handed down by the Supreme Court in the final chapter of the ongoing saga that is the case of Ilott v Mitson. The appeal of the charities has been allowed, and the order of the District Judge in the first instance has been restored.
The case has made headlines in recent years due to the various appeals made by the parties to the case but a summary of the background is this:
- Mrs Ilott was the only child of Mrs Jackson, whom she had been estranged for 26 years. Mrs Jackson died in 2004 having made a valid Will leaving her estate worth approximately £486,000 to various animal charities. Mrs Ilott was married with 5 children and received benefits. She brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for financial provision.
- In the first instance, it was held that the Will did not make reasonable financial provision and she was awarded £50,000. Mrs Ilot appealed and the charities cross appealed.
- The High Court disposed of Mrs Ilot’s claim, awarding her nothing and the charities succeeded. Mrs Ilot brought a second appeal.
- Mrs Ilot succeeded and the case was sent to the High Court for them to decide how much she should be awarded. However in 2014 the High Court dismissed Mrs Ilot’s appeal on the value of her claim and so Mrs Ilot appealed again.
- The Court of Appeal overturned the original award of £50,000 and replaced it with an award in favour of Mrs Ilot in the sum of £143,000 (to purchase her home) and a capital sum of £20,000 – sums intended not to impact on her state benefits entitlement. The charities appealed this time.
- The appeal was allowed and the original award of £50,000 was reinstated.
The importance of the decision is that it provides clarity on claims being brought by adult children under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The Supreme Court has highlighted the importance of limiting financial awards to adult children, and gives weight to the wishes of the testator and the period of estrangement. The Court also recognised the importance of charitable legacies, highlighting that they “…depend heavily on testamentary bequests for their work”.
Whilst the decision is clearly a victory for the Charities, it will no doubt have an impact on adult children contesting a Will, making it more difficult and potentially less likely for them to succeed.
From Faye Scotter in Probate Department following the significant judgement in the Supreme Court today.
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