The law allows children to challenge their parents’ Wills if they have not been properly provided for. This applies to children of all ages although, traditionally, it has been very difficult for an adult child to make a successful claim.
The High Court case of Heather Ilot ( EWHC 542 (Fam)), unusually, involves a successful claim by an adult child who, even more unusually, was estranged from her mother.
The deceased, Melita Jackson, left her £486,000 Estate to various charities and nothing to her daughter Heather Ilot, from whom she had been estranged since she left home at 17 to marry a man of whom her mother disapproved.
Ms Ilot made a successful claim at first instance that her mother had not made reasonable provision for her under her Will and she was awarded a lump sum of £50,000.
Both parties appealed. The charities contended that she had received too much while Ms Ilot said she had not received enough. In fact, an award of this size would not benefit her at all as she would lose her entitlement to state benefits, on which she was living. She argued that the only way she could benefit was if she was awarded enough to buy her council house under the right-to-buy scheme. The charities said she should only be awarded a couple of thousand pounds – enough to get driving lessons and get a job, apparently.
The High Court upheld the first instance decision. The actual right to provision for Ms Ilot, even though she had no relationship with her mother, was appropriate because if she received no provision, this would be an ‘unreasonable result’. This was on the basis that:
- Ms Jackson had behaved unreasonably in remaining estranged from her daughter; and
- Ms Ilot and her family had extremely limited means and little prospect of improving their lot in life.
However, the fact that Ms Ilot had lived independently from her mother for so long and the fact that she had had no expectation of receiving anything under her mother’s Will meant that any provision must necessarily be limited. This was a relevant consideration under the Act.
The High Court therefore had no grounds for overturning the first instance decision. However, reading between the lines it seems that a big problem for the claimant was that she (or her legal team) had never actually presented the Court with evidence of how much money she actually needed. At one point, she submitted a schedule requesting more than the whole value of the Estate. The judge at first instance appeared to have no choice but to almost pluck a figure out of the air and, given he had made no error at law, this figure was not appealable.