"Your Will can be ignored, say judges" – this was one of the headlines following the latest, but perhaps not the last, judgment in the long running case of Ilott v Mitson. This is the case involving a daughter who was deliberately excluded from any benefit from her mother’s Will, following an estrangement triggered when she ran off with her boyfriend aged 17 many years earlier. Her mother instead left her estate to three animal charities.
As it is so often the case, the truth behind the headlines is rather more nuanced. The Court of Appeal found that the daughter should receive some part of the estate as far back as 2011. This latest decision increases the amount she is to receive.
It has been possible for many years for family members, including children, to challenge a Will on the basis that it has not made reasonable financial provision for them. In this case the mother took professional advice and a careful letter was prepared explaining why she was excluding her daughter. The letter also instructed her executors to defend any claim on the estate that might be brought by her daughter. We do not know but it also seems likely that the mother would have been advised that the courts have always been reluctant to award any provision to an adult able bodied child.
So why is this case important? Well, it doesn’t say that you cannot write your Will as you wish. But if you want to go as far as disinheriting your only child, then it is going to be harder to do. One key factor in this case seems to have been that the mother had little connection with the three animal charities to which she left her estate. At the same time there was also, it seems, sympathy for the daughter, who was on benefits and had very limited means.
And the case isn’t necessarily over yet. It’s reported that the charities are giving careful consideration on whether or not to appeal to the Supreme Court.