Disinheriting Family...A Cautionary Tale
The Court of Appeal made a landmark ruling* on 27 July 2015 which has significant implications for the preparation of Wills.
The Will of Melita Jackson left her entire estate valued at over £485,000 to be divided equally between three charities; it did not leave anything to her daughter from whom she had been estranged for over 20 years.
Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, Melita Jackson’s daughter, Heather Ilott, challenged the Will and successfully argued that it did not make reasonable provision for her. Heather Llott was awarded £164,000 to enable her to buy her home and improve her standard of living. The Court of Appeal felt that she would otherwise face a life of poverty.
What does this mean for your Will?
This decision has come after a lengthy 8 year court battle and it is felt that it has certainly muddied the waters on the right of every individual to leave their money and assets by Will to whomsoever they wish. Consequently, it has implications for drawing up Wills in the future. The mother had written to her lawyers giving explicit instructions to the Executors of her Will to fight any claim brought by her daughter. “I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate” , she stated, and “I have made it clear to my daughter … that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die”. This was not found to be a sufficient reason to prevent the Court from awarding financial provision to the daughter.
What should you do?
The case turns on its own facts. The daughter was in a poor financial position and was able to demonstrate financial need. Her mother did not have particular connections to the three charities that benefited under her Will. Nevertheless, it could be argued that the Court of Appeal has shown some generosity to the daughter which goes beyond previous decisions and has shown itself more willing to intervene to redistribute the estate.
This decision is likely to give rise to an increase in challenges to Wills where a child has been left out of a Will. Professional legal advice should be sought in order to minimise the risk that a Will could be challenged successfully.
We have always advised caution in cases where a Will is not going to make provision for someone who might reasonably have expected to benefit. This case serves to demonstrate the importance of keeping a record of the reasons for the decision. However, it goes further and shows that, in weighing the competing claims, the connection between the parties is an important factor. Had Melita Jackson had a long term association with the charities, the outcome might have been different. So, it will also be important to record the connection with the chosen beneficiaries and the reasons for making provision for them.
The case clearly shows that great care is needed in such cases and that it is important too take professional advice.
Should you review your Will ? Arrange an appointment with us at SWLaw and make sure that your Will is professionally prepared. Reduce the risk of a successful challenge to your testamentary intentions.
David Kelshall LLM
* NB On 1st March 2016, the Supreme Court gave permission to appeal this decision.