You would expect that what is written in your Will as your final wishes would be honoured after you’re gone. But a landmark ruling by the Court of Appeal has overturned a Will, paving the way for new steps to be taken when formalising the distribution of assets after death.
Melita Jackson left her entire £500,000 estate to animal charities when she died in 2004. But her only daughter, Heather Ilott, battled for eight years to get some of the money for herself on the grounds that her mother didn’t leave “reasonable provision” for her in her Will.
The Court of Appeal ruled in Mrs Ilott’s favour and granted her a third of the estate as she was facing a life of poverty living on benefits. The Court used the fact that Mrs Jackson had little connection to the charities to which she left her money as part of the ruling.
Now this is where it gets really interesting. We would assume that no matter what we put in our Will it should stand as our final wishes and be honoured. But this ruling suggests that we may have to explain our decisions when writing our Will. So, in this case, if Mrs Jackson had stated that she wanted to leave the money to the animal charities for a particular reason, the Court may not have overruled her wishes.
Looking at this case, it is likely that to ensure our wishes are carried out in full, we will have to explain the reasons and demonstrate tangible connections to the beneficiaries of our Will. It may mean that it will be easier for adult children who are disinherited by their parents to challenge their Wills and gain a proportion of any estate.
But if you explain in your Will why you have disinherited your children and the reasons for leaving them nothing, your wishes may be carried out.
Slater and Gordon’s Senior Inheritance, Trusts and Probate Solicitor said, “This decision does not devalue wills already written or the freedom of an individual to leave their estate to whomever they choose. Instead, it is limited to instances where an individual, in the words of the court, acts in “an unreasonable, capricious and harsh way towards her only daughter”. People contemplating cases of this type should take specialist advice at the outset to be sure that they have a realistic claim.”
If you need any advice regarding Wills, be it writing, contesting, or defending a claim, contact our expert team of lawyers at Slater and Gordon UK. Call us on freephone 0800 916 9056 or contact us online and we will call you.
Update to Heather Ilott's case 07/03/2016 - The charities have now obtained leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is to consider whether the England & Wales Court of Appeal's approach to maintenance – based on whether Mrs Ilott's current living standard was sufficient – was wrong. It will also decide whether the EWCA was wrong to structure its award so that Mrs Ilott would keep her entitlement to state benefits.