Order restored? The final chapter after 10 years of Ilott v Mitson

A long-running contentious probate case has seen the Supreme Court overturn a decision to increase the sum of money left to a woman by her estranged mother, who left her entire £500,000 estate to three animal charities.

The case of Ilott v Mitson was first heard in 2007. It related to the will of Melita Jackson who died in 2004, which left her estate to three animal charities and did not leave anything to her estranged only child, Heather Ilott. Mrs Ilott brought a claim for reasonable financial provision and was awarded £50,000 in 2007. After various appeals, in 2015 the Court of Appeal awarded Mrs Ilott a lump sum of £143,000 to enable her to buy her council house together with an option to take a further sum up to £20,000. The charities then appealed this decision.

In the 10 years since the case began, it has been considered by judges five times, with different conclusions reached each time. The Supreme Court has now restored the original decision made back in 2007.

The length of time that has passed and the different decisions made only go to show how difficult it can be to assess and decide claims for reasonable provision pursuant to The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Mark Abrol, head of property litigation and contentious probate at The Wilkes Partnership, comments:

“I am sure that this will be seen as a victory to charities. The charities brought their appeal out of principle because of their concern that the 2015 judgment could lead to fewer individuals leaving their estates to charities for fear that their wills would be easily overturned by courts. The fact that the Supreme Court has now recognised that charities have a financial need will be very important to them. It will also be seen as a victory to those who feel that the 2015 judgment went too far and was an example of courts interfering with the principle of testamentary freedom by essentially re-writing a will to include someone who the testator had vehemently not wanted to benefit on her death. The outcome also restores a degree of certainty which benefits both legal advisers and the public alike.

“The decision made by the Court of Appeal in 2015 has been debated, criticised and approved by academics and practitioners alike. Up until July 2015, legal principles dictated that it was very difficult for adult children to succeed in a claim for financial provision unless there had been a financial link between them. The July 2015 judgment suggested that this may no longer be the case, as it raised fundamental questions about the sanctity of testamentary freedom, and the treatment of charitable beneficiaries, with the claimant already adequately supported by benefits and the independence of adult children.”

The contentious probate team at The Wilkes Partnership regularly advises individuals in both bringing and defending claims pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.

The Contentious Probate Team at The Wilkes Partnership advises executors and beneficiaries faced with an uncertain or ambiguous Will.  If you wish to discuss any aspect of Will drafting or interpretation issues please get in touch with Kevin Lynch on 0121 233 4333 or via email on klynch@wilkes.co.uk.