The Supreme Court decision in the claim by Heather Ilott against the estate of her late mother Melita Jackson is due to be given by the Supreme Court on 12th December 2016 (Ilott v Mitson). This will bring to an end the great uncertainty over the circumstances when a person's clear decision set out in their Will about what should happen to their estate can be overturned under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. In particular it will resolve the massive fears that many charities have that the income they derive from legacies will be under threat.
This has been a long running dispute. Melita Jackson died in 2004 aged 70. At her death she had one daughter, Heather Ilott. However rather than leaving any provision in her Will for her daughter Mrs Jackson left all of her estate amounting to about £500,000 to three charities – The Blue Cross, RSPB and RSPCA. Mrs Jackson made a valid Will and was completely entitled to leave all of her estate to the charities. She had fallen out with her daughter over 30 years before her death.
The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 does allow particular groups of people to make a claim over the estate of the deceased if they can show that the provision made is not reasonable. Where this legislation has been used it has commonly been on behalf of minor children so this particular case was unusual in that it was an adult child that had made the claim. Initially Mrs Ilott was awarded £50,000 in 2007. Eventually this was increased to £164,000 by the Court of Appeal. The charities involved then appealed against the decision not so much on the basis of the amount involved but the principle that it could set. It is estimated that nearly two billion pounds a year goes to charities through legacies and this case has put that under threat.
Given that Mrs Jackson took legal advice and had a Will properly prepared including having a letter left with the Will explaining why she made no provision for her daughter lawyers will be looking at the decision with great interest. There may need to be a change in the best practice approach towards this in the advice given to clients but charities that have previously received a large amount of their income from legacies are going to be watching the decision with great fear that their income could be reduced by these type of claims succeeding.
Our previous article on this case, dated 1st July 2016, Melita Jackson Inheritance Act Claim Continues to Cause Ripples is available to read online.