A decision by the Supreme Court to rule in favour of three animal charities in a long running legal wrangle is set to have far reaching implications for future inheritance disputes.
Craig Ridge, a Partner at FBC Manby Bowdler and expert in contentious probate, said the ruling to allow Heather Illot to only inherit £50,000 from her late mother’s estate could “close the floodgates” to potential claims from people in a similar position.
He explained what the landmark judgment means:
The true story of Heather Ilott who was disinherited when she fell out with her mother when she left home at 17 to live with her now husband may seem like a plot from a television drama but it has been a closely watched case in the legal world due to the repercussions it will have.
Heather’s estranged mother, Melita Jackson, left her entire estate to three animal charities. Initially Heather was awarded £50,000 by a district judge, claiming under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, that she could rightfully expect to be provided for in her mother’s will. This was increased to £163,000 on appeal.
The charities challenged that decision in the Supreme Court which has now ruled she will only inherit the original of £50,000 lump sum.
“The case is very important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it seems this decision will close the floodgates in relation to claims made against a deceased's estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 by adult children who are financially independent, either privately or by way of benefits, and who had no expectation of receipt from their parent’s estate."
“It clarifies the court’s unwillingness to divert from a deceased's wishes as stated in their will. That means that the existence of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 doesn’t mean that the deceased's wishes cease to be taken into account."
It was noted that Mrs Jackson’s wishes that her estate goes to charities couldn’t be ignored and neither could the estrangement between the two women.
“The main lesson to learn from this is the importance of a properly drafted will. The number of inheritance disputes have increased eight-fold in the last year as more people are prepared to challenge what they perceive to be an unfair decision by their parent or relative.
“Although the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 exists, the Illot saga tells us that judges will be looking at a number of a broader issues when ruling on cases in the future.
“It highlights the need to have watertight grounds on which to exclude someone from your will. And although there will still be opportunities to legally challenge a will if you feel you have been wrongfully excluded, there will need to be cast iron grounds for a claim before a court rules in your favour.”
For more information about Disputed Probate or similar issues raised in this article, please contact Craig Ridge