The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled in favour of three charities in a long-running inheritance dispute.
When the mother of Mrs Heather Ilott died in 2004, she left her estate, worth just under £500,000 to three Charities, the Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). However she did not leave anything for her daughter as the two had been completely estranged for decades and the Supreme Court inheritance ruling has not gone the way she had hoped.
She challenged the will and was initially awarded £50,000 but did not feel this was enough. In July 2015 the Court of Appeal found that Mrs Ilott’s mother had acted “unreasonably, capriciously and harshly” towards her daughter awarded her £143,000 from the estate.
The three charities concerned appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that the original award of £50,000 should be reinstated. The case raised the wider issue of on what basis should claims like this by adult children be decided. Mrs Ilott justified the amount that she was seeking and which the Court of Appeal awarded on the basis that it would enable her to buy her home.
The Supreme Court had to balance the two conflicting arguments and granted the charities’ appeal. The Justices ruled that:
“It is not the case that once there is a qualified claimant and a demonstrated need for maintenance, the testator’s wishes cease to be of any weight.”
Stowe Family Law Partner Graham Coy said:
“The Courts in this country have for many years had the power to alter the provisions of a perfectly valid Will even in the case of a grown-up child who has lived independently for many years.
A Court always has to balance conflicting claims against an estate and in this particular case the Court had to take into account Mrs Ilott’s very straitened financial circumstances: she and her husband were dependent upon state benefits.
What was really an issue within these proceedings was, on the one hand, respecting the late Mrs Jackson’s wishes and on the other hand whether the Court should intervene to provide financial assistance to her middle-aged daughter. The Court had to decide if they should disregard the late mother’s wishes and relieve the taxpayer of some of the financial burden of supporting the family.
The Court also had to take into account that charities such as those involved in this case depend on legacies for their continued existence.
There needs to be clear guidelines as to when Judges should intervene and when they shouldn’t to prevent those legacies being paid and to thwart the intentions of people such as Mrs Jackson when they make their Wills.”
Graham Coy is available for interviews on this decision. Please contact Stowe Family Law if you want to set one up.
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