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Woman omitted by her mother in will wins £164k inheritance

Woman omitted by her mother in will wins £164k inheritance
Tuesday 28th July 2015

Mrs Illot has spent more than a decade claiming a reasonable financial provision from her mother’s estate. Her case came close to resembling Charles Dicken’s fictional claim of Jarndyce v Jarndyce in which a dispute over entitlement to an estate runs over many years and eventually consumes the entire estate leaving nothing.

Mrs Illot was the only daughter of Melita Jackson. Mrs Jackson died in 2004. At the time of her death Mrs Jackon had become estranged from her daughter and her will provided that her £486,000 estate be left to three animal welfare charities. 

Mrs Illot brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Under the terms of this act a child, spouse or civil partner can bring a claim for a reasonable financial provision, essentially what it would be reasonable for them to live on avoiding extremes of luxurious and miserable levels.

At first instance the court held that Mrs Jackon’s conduct towards her daughter had been “unreasonable, capricious and harsh”. The Court awarded Mrs Illot a reasonable provision of £50,000 from her mother’s estate. Mrs Illot appealed the value of the award to the High Court. The charities that were to benefit from Mrs Jackson’s will also appealed.

On appeal to the High Court the charities were successful and Mrs Illot’s claim was dismissed. She then appealed again to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the arguments that a deceased mother's will could not reasonably make no financial provision for her estranged adult daughter.  

Much of Mrs Jackon’s wealth came from her husband and compensation paid following his death in an industrial accident in 1960. There was no evidence that Mrs Jackson had interests in animal welfare or links to the charities she intended to benefit in her lifetime and the terms of her will left Mrs Illot in some financial hardship raising five children. The Court heard that Mrs Illot struggled to afford clothes, did not go on holiday and was financially restricted when shopping for food. The Court was also told that Mrs Jackson had frustrated attempts by Mrs Illot to reconcile.

The Court of Appeal rejected the High Court’s decision that the first decision was an error. The district judge who first determined the claim had made a value judgment that the financial provision was not adequate and he was entitled to make that decision. The judge had regard to the value of the estate, Mrs Illot’s foreseeable financial resources and needs and the positions of Mrs Jackson’s beneficiaries amongst other factors.

The Court of Appeal has now in July 2015 re-assessed the provision for Mrs Illot at the significantly higher sum of £164,000 but not without many years having passed. 

There is nothing new in the approach taken by the Court of Appeal but the facts of this particular case are a noteworthy example. The decision of the Court underlined the requirement to consider whether a provision made for dependants is unreasonable and demonstrates that an adult child who can subsist without provision may still successfully bring a claim. It is to be hoped that cases such as this can now be determined more swiftly in future and at significantly less cost.

The decision is also a warning for charities. A great many charities are dependent on support from legacies in wills and this decision may now have funding implications for that sector.