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Daughter fails in her application for higher award from mother’s will

The estranged daughter of a woman who made substantial donations to charity in her will has lost her bid for a higher award.

In Ilott v Mitson and Others, the woman had fallen out with her mother over her lifestyle years before. She now had five children and lived modestly, depending on benefits.

When her mother died, she left the entirety of her substantial estate, worth £486,000, to three charities and nothing to her daughter.

In 2007, the woman applied for a portion of the estate, under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.

At the High Court, Mrs Justice Parker noted that:

“[The original judge] held that the fact that the Claimant was an adult did not debar [prevent] her from establishing that the will did not make reasonable provision for her. He found that it was relevant that she was of limited means. He found that the rejection by the deceased of her only child at the age of seventeen, then maintained for the rest of her life, was unreasonable. That had led to the deceased unreasonably excluding her daughter from any financial provision in her will, despite her daughter’s obviously constrained and needy financial circumstances and wish for and attempts at reconciliation. He held that the reasons given by the deceased for excluding her daughter, set out in letters written in 1984 and 2002, both contained a number of factual inaccuracies in the attempt to explain her decision, which adds to and supports the unfairness.”

The daughter was awarded £50,000 from the will.

Various appeals followed. The woman appealed the ‘quantum’ (the amount she had been awarded) because she wanted enough to buy her own home. The charities, meanwhile, appealed the award of £50,000 and the finding that the will had not made “reasonable provision” for the daughter.

The charities’ appeal was initially successful. But the daughter appealed this ruling and her claim was remitted (sent back) to the High Court.

Amongst her grounds for appeal was the claim that the earlier award would not provide any real benefit because an award over £16,000 would reduce the benefits she would otherwise be entitled to claim on a pound for pound basis, unless used to buy a home.

Mrs Justice Parker declared:

“Although the Respondent charities have no claim, moral or otherwise, on the deceased as the judge recorded, nonetheless [the original judge] had to pay regard to the fact that this was the way that the deceased had chosen to bequeath her assets. The Judge’s award was intended to provide the Claimant with a windfall for her to spend as she liked in improving her circumstances. The Judge did not specifically take into account that only the first £16,000 of this sum would be of direct benefit to her, unless of course she expended the total immediately. I do not know and have not been told what effect on her benefits there will be if she does indeed expend these sums: and whether they will be treated as notionally hers.

The judge continued:

“If I took the view that the [original] judge’s approach was manifestly wrong because he did not provide a sufficient lump sum to re-house the Claimant… then of course I would allow the appeal. But the [original] court [was] conducting a balancing exercise between the various factors. I cannot say that the judge was manifestly wrong, or even wrong, in taking the view that notwithstanding that the Claimant and her husband and family lived in straightened circumstances, the fact they had done so for so many years did not justify an award which improved their circumstances. The argument on behalf of the Claimant is in effect that because there will be no benefit to the Claimant unless her housing need is met, the award must achieve that result. That cannot be the right approach.”

The woman’s appeal was dismissed.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    I am suffering from a clash of prejudices here.

    I don’t like claims by adult children whom the deceased could not have been forced to support while living. The Act of 1938 only allowed claims by unmarried daughters which even by 1975 seemed preposterous – but instead of including all offspring the new Act should have excluded them all if of full age.

    But I also have no time for animal charities which in my professional experience attract the types who love animals because they don’t like people.

    You see my dilemma!

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