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Charities win battle for Will makers’ right to choose

by Published on

 

Author of the article, Solicitor – Sarah Bowes

The Blue Cross, the RSPCA and the RSPB, who were named as the main beneficiaries of a £486,000 estate, have successfully won their case against the deceased’s estranged daughter who was cut out of the Will. test

Mrs Ilott and Mrs Jackson had been estranged since Mrs Ilott left home in 1978, aged 17, to live with her boyfriend (now husband) with whom she subsequently had 5 children. When Mrs Jackson made her Will in 2002 she was very clear that she did not want her daughter to inherit a penny, and that she wanted the majority of her estate to go to charity.  Mrs Ilott was aware that she should not expect to receive anything from her mother, but when Mrs Jackson died in 2004 Mrs Ilott brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (‘IPFDA’) for provision from her mother’s estate. The key argument made by Mrs Ilott centred on her poor financial circumstances  – she and her husband had a combined net annual income of £20,000 which included means tested benefits.

The case has since spent years going through the courts (undoubtedly at vast expense) to determine exactly how much Mrs Ilott was entitled to.

The Supreme Court’s judgment reinstates an earlier decision to give Mrs Ilott £50,000; overruling a decision by the Court of Appeal to give her over three times that amount – a decision which controversially appeared to generously compensate Mrs Ilott (at the expense of her mother’s chosen beneficiaries) for the effect the award would have on her means tested benefits.

As well as being a victory for the charities, the decision is also important for Will makers. It establishes much needed guidance about the level of financial provision which a Court should make in these cases, as well as the importance that is to be given to wishes contained in a Will and the financial circumstances of potential IPFDA claimants when deciding any award. The guidance given by the Court includes the following points:

  1. Evidence of clear wishes not to benefit a person and any longstanding estrangement are relevant factors which should be given weight.
  2. Where provision is to be made for maintenance (the standard to be applied to all claimants except spouses), it is proper for this to provide for more than the claimant’s most basic needs. However it should not be extended give them sufficient for everything that they would ideally want to be able to afford. For example, if it is decided that they need a home, options should be considered which put a roof over their heads but don’t entitle them to the value of the property, which is preserved for the beneficiaries of the Will.
  3. The effect of an award on a claimant’s eligibility for means tested benefits should not be given too much weight, and will be most relevant where the claimant is disabled.
  4. The wishes of the Will maker are an important factor – beneficiaries of a Will (whether charities or individuals) should not have to justify their position in terms of need or expectation.

Whilst all of this gives some reassurance, there is also a warning for those wanting to disinherit their children (or others) – it is essential to take expert advice. All cases of this kind turn on their specific facts. As part of our Will making service, our specialist solicitors at Samuel Phillips will advise you about any potential claims and help ensure that critical information is recorded in an appropriate way.  We can also review your existing Will and supplementary documents with you to ensure that they reflect any recent legal developments.

Please do not hesitate to call us on 0191 232 8451 or text the word Law to 82010 for a confidential, no obligation discussion.

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