Following over ten years of litigation the Supreme Court decision in the case of Melita Jackson's estate and the claims made by her daughter Heather Ilott has been announced today. This brings to an end the litigation and gives a final decision on the claim made by Mrs Jackson's daughter.
Mrs Jackson died in 2004 aged 70. She had one daughter whom she had fallen out with over 30 years previously. As a result she had made no provision in her Will for her which was validly completed with the help of a Solicitor. Mrs Jackson's estate at her death was worth about £500,000 and she left all of that to three charities – The Blue Cross, RSPB and RSPCA.
Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 Mrs Jackson's daughter Heather Ilott made a claim against the estate on the basis that she did not consider that it was reasonable. Such claims have normally been limited to minor children so for a child now aged over 50 years to make a claim was in itself unusual. The most significant aspect however was the precedent that was set in that the Courts effectively overruled the right of Mrs Jackson to leave her estate to whoever she wanted to. In her situation she decided to benefit three charities rather than her own daughter.
Following an initial decision in 2007 by the County Court the Court of Appeal in 2015 awarded Mrs Ilott £143,000 to buy the home she lived in, and an option to receive £20,000 in one or more instalments, which was about a third of her estate. The national charities involved launched an appeal to the Supreme Court to seek a final ruling on this. Their concern and those of all charities that receive income from legacies was that although there had been no expectation that they would be able to receive the monies left by Mrs Jackson it was her wish that the charities should benefit. After all it was her money and she should be entitled to leave it to the charities. Nearly two billion pounds a year is left to charities through legacies provided for in Wills and so any threat to this has been a major concern for all charities whether they be national or local ones.
The Supreme Court has allowed the appeal by the charities and reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court did not accept that the Court should overturn the express wishes of Mrs Jackson in her Will. They upheld the decision that Mrs Jackson's will did not make reasonable financial provision for Mrs Ilott and upheld the award of £50,000. Mrs Jackson had made it clear why she did not want to benefit her daughter and it was for her to decide that about her assets.
Although Mrs Ilott was entitled to make a claim under the Inheritance Act the Supreme Court did not consider that for an adult child of her age such an Order was necessary to meet her needs. There was no "entitlement" as the daughter of Mrs Jackson for Mrs Ilott to receive any money at all.
The outcome has relieved both Solicitors and charities alike. For Solicitors they are now able to give more definite advice to clients wishing to make Wills that do not benefit members of the family. The decision has endorsed the best practice before of a letter being left with the Will making it clear why particular family members are not benefitted. As far as charities are concerned they are relieved that the principle has been confirmed that someone can leave their estate to whoever they wish including leaving this to charities. It is therefore hoped by charities that their income will not be reduced by the number of legacies reducing. It is interesting to note however that if at the time of making her Will Mrs Jackson had made some provision for her daughter it is very unlikely that this litigation would have ensued as her daughter might not then have pursued a claim at all.
Solicitors are very careful to make sure that all discussions surrounding making a Will are dealt with in a sensitive and constructive manner. Providing information about the possibility of adding a legacy to a charity in their Will is an important part of that.
Our previous articles on this case, dated 1st July and 9th December 2016 are both available to read online, Melita Jackson Inheritance Act Claim Continues to Cause Ripples and Decision now Expected in Landmark Case of Melita Jackson (Ilott v Mitson)
We pride ourselves on providing Wills that give you complete peace of mind and legal assurance that your wishes will be carried out once you are gone, if you have any concerns about making your Will please contact the Wills, Trusts and Probate team today on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an enquiry' form.
We also offer a full range of legal services to our clients from the Charity sector, please see our dedicated webpage on our legal services for Charities for more information.