Bitter inheritance dispute reaches the Supreme Court

Family Law|December 9th 2016

A bitter inheritance dispute will reach the Supreme Court on Monday (12 December).

Ilott v The Blue Cross and others concerns a woman who left her substantial estate to a number of animal charities when she passed away. These included the Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).

She had fallen out with her only daughter when the latter set up home with a man she disapproved of at the age of 17. They became estranged and remained so for the rest of the mother’s life. Three separate attempts at reconciliation all failed.

Following the mother’s death, the daughter, who lived on benefits, made a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, arguing that her mother’s will had not made “reasonable provision” for her as her only child. She received an initial award of £50,000, but this sum was eventually almost tripled on appeal.

The animal charities who had originally been the beneficiaries of the mother’s will pursued the matter however, and in March they were granted permission to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court.

At the scheduled one day hearing, the charities’ legal team will argue that the Court of Appeal was wrong to set aside the original award in favour of a much increased one, and that the ruling should have been based on the mother’s situation at the time of the original hearing – not her circumstances when she made the  subsequent appeal. Lawyers will also question the decision to structure the daughter’s award in such a way that it would not affect her entitlement to state benefits.

However, the original decision – to grant the daughter provision from her late mother’s estate – will not be under discussion. Permission to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court was denied as long as 2011. She will, therefore still receive an award, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Brian Sloan, a fellow in law at Robinson College, Cambridge, noted:

“Throughout the [the] lifetime [of the Inheritance Act 1975], it has been a calculated risk to exclude from a will an adult child who might be said to have a need for maintenance, even if s/he has literally been able to survive without support from the now-deceased parent.”

He added:

“It is arguably a courageous decision for the charities involved to pursue a further appeal in this long-running case”.

Both charities and lawyers would await the decision of the Supreme Court’s ruling with “interest and no small degree of apprehension” he suggested.

Read more here.

Photo of the Supreme Court building by Cary Bass-Deschenes via Flckr under a Creative Commons licence

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