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Disinheritance and the law: just how binding is your last will and testament?

In 2004 Melita Jackson passed away leaving an estate valued at just under £500,000. Two years previously she had made her last will that disinherited her estranged daughter (Heather Ilott) and instead left most of her estate to three animal charities.

What followed was a long and protracted court battle that took over 10 years and ended up in the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.

Theo Hoppen, Senior Solicitor at the Stowe Family Law office in Harrogate specialises in cases where there are inheritance, wills, trust and estate issues, and joins us today on the blog to look at the case in more detail.

When it was made public in 2016, the case of Ilott v Mitson received mainstream press coverage. It was a complicated case that fundamentally deals with the legal principle of a person’s right to leave their assets to whomever they please when they die.  People are often surprised to learn that the court can go against the deceased’s wishes and override the terms of his or her will.  In this case, Melita Jackson did not leave any inheritance to her estranged daughter, however, the court ruled her daughter should receive some financial provision.

To help understand the context below is a timeline of events:

2007: Heather Ilott challenges the will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act and is awarded £50,000 on the basis she had been “unreasonably” excluded.

2010: High Court rules Mrs Ilott is not entitled to a share of the money but the Court of Appeal overturns this decision reinstating the order made in 2007 that Mrs Ilott should receive £50,000

2014: Mrs Ilott loses at another High Court hearing to get a larger share of the money meaning she is to receive £50,000

2015: Decision is challenged at the Court of Appeal and Mrs Ilott is awarded £164,000

2017: The three animal charities set to benefit from the majority of Mrs Jackson’s estate win a Supreme Court challenge and the sum for Mrs Ilott is reduced back to the original £50,000

It is not uncommon for adult aged children to bring claims for reasonable financial provision to be made for them out of their parent’s estate pursuant to the terms of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

The Supreme Court’s decision highlighted the need for anyone making a will, especially one that may prove controversial, to always seek legal advice to safeguard (as far as possible) the provisions within the will against any potential beneficiaries who may claim.

Today, the number of Inheritance Act claims (such as the one in Ilott v Mitson) have been steadily increasing and the law in this area is complex and changing rapidly.  Factor in that nearly 60% of Britons have not written a will, and inheritance disputes are growing.

Any of the issues above impact  on you?

Anyone considering contesting a will or making a claim should get advice from expert solicitors to ensure their assets and family are protected.

Based in Harrogate, Theo Hoppen is highly experienced in handling inheritance disputes and represents clients in relation to claims against estates under the Inheritance Act (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Theo Hoppen was a Senior Solicitor in our Harrogate office. He advises on all aspects of family law with a specialism in representing clients in relation to claims against estates under the Inheritance Act.

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  1. Andrew says:

    I was what we then called an articled clerk when this Act was passed, I thought that it would be an engine of misery and strife, and I was right.

    By all means allow claims by spouses, civil partners, exes whose claims are still open, and minor children; the persons whom the deceased could have been made to support while alive. But not adult issue or cohabitees who had no such right.

    The Act needs reform by pruning.

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