On 15th March 2017, the Supreme Court handed down its eagerly anticipated judgment in the now infamous case of Ilott v Mitson.
Briefly, the case centred on an adult child (Mrs Ilott) who had been excluded from her late mother’s Will. Mrs Illot’s mother had left her entire estate of £486,000 to be divided between three charities with which she had no apparent connection.
Mrs Ilott had not been in contact with her mother since she left home at 17 to live with a boyfriend of whom her mother did not approve. Although she and her mother had been estranged for 26 years, upon her mother’s death, Mrs Ilott brought a claim against her estate in accordance with the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
At first instance, the Judge in the County Court awarded Mrs Ilott £50,000. Mrs Ilott appealed this and at the Court of Appeal, Mrs Ilott received approximately £163,000. This sum enabled Mrs Ilott to buy her property and more than tripled her original award. The Court of Appeal decision placed significant importance on the needs of family members over and above non related beneficiaries.
The charities appealed and last month the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal and re-instated the original award of £50,000.
This appeal is the first time a 1975 Act claim has been considered by the Supreme Court and provides welcome reassurance to people writing a Will that their wishes will be followed and children can still be disinherited unless certain criteria are met by the challenging party.
However it should be noted that Lady Hale criticised the state of the present law as being “unsatisfactory… giving as it does no guidance as to the factors to be taken into account in deciding whether an adult child is deserving or undeserving of reasonable maintenance”.
This case highlights the importance of obtaining specialist advice, and possibly incorporating a well-drafted trust when seeking to exclude family members from benefitting through the terms of a Will.