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Warning over ‘disinheriting’ children from Wills

A solicitor is warning caution when planning to ‘disinherit’ a child from a Will following a major national court case which saw a woman claim £164,000 despite her mother’s wishes that she would not inherit.

The ten year court case involved 70-year-old Melita Jackson who died in 2004, leaving her only adult daughter, Heather Ilott, nothing and instead bequeathing her £500,000 estate to three animal charities.

In 2007 the High Court awarded Mrs Ilott £50,000 after she argued that she was entitled to reasonable financial provision from the estate of her late mother and that her mother had a ‘moral obligation’ to include her in her Will. She told the court she was in severe financial need, being heavily dependant on state benefits with five children she could not afford to clothe. Mrs Ilott was seeking half of her late mother’s Estate.

In 2011 the Court of Appeal ruled that sum of £50,000 was not an adequate amount, and the latest appeal ruling has seen Mrs Ilott awarded £164,000.

Stephanie Kerr, solicitor in the Litigation team at law firm Napthens, said the Court of Appeal decision may have increased the extent of an estate which can be claimed by an adult child, and may result in more claims even if the deceased had given good reasons why their child should be excluded from a Will.

The Court still needs to be satisfied that the deceased parent owed a moral obligation to include the child in his or her Will and also that the adult child is actually in financial need such that he or she requires financial provision from the Estate.

She explained: “This case means that testators – people preparing a Will – will need to carefully explain their reasons for children being disinherited, and why other recipients are being given a greater sum.

“It’s clear that the case does potentially limit the freedom of a testator to make a Will on their own terms, but conversely it may assist adult children who feel excluded. Adult children have for some time been able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, but each claim must still be proven on the facts (showing financial need and an obligation to the adult child), so people in this position should always seek advice.

“It’s also important to remember that a case will be dealt with on its own merits, so the scope for a claim may be limited if the child has already been given some benefit – in this case the claimant was struggling to afford to clothe her children, which may not always be the case. Even in this case the ruling means Mrs Ilott won’t be much better off in terms of cash – she will only be receiving £20,000 in cash as the remainder of the award relates to the purchase of property.

“We fully expect that this ruling will not be the end of the matter – the animal charities involved are said to be giving very careful consideration to appealing, so the Supreme Court may need to consider the amount awarded.”