Three high profile animal charities have been granted permission to take their case to the Supreme Court following the England and Wales Court of Appeals decision in Ilott v Mitson (2015 EWCA Civ 797).

As a Solicitor specialising in Wills, I have been following the case of Ilott v Mitson closely since the Court’s controversial decision to award the estranged daughter of the late Mrs Jackson a substantial amount of money to purchase a house, despite Mrs Jackson making it very clear in her Will that she did not want her daughter, Mrs Ilott, to receive a penny.

If you haven’t been following the case, here are the key facts:

  • When Mrs Jackson died she left the entirety of her estate (£486,000) to charity. Her chosen beneficiaries were the RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross. She took a great deal of care to make sure that her intentions were clear; her daughter, estranged for 26 years, was not to receive any of her estate.
  • Mrs Ilott appealed her late mother’s Will and made a claim on the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, on the basis that she and her family were on very low incomes and relied heavily on state benefits. This claim was opposed by the three charity beneficiaries.
  • In July 2015, Mrs Ilott was awarded £143,000 to buy a house (plus expenses) and an extra £20,000. Lady Justice Arden said that because Mrs Ilott’s income was so low (less than £7,000) it overrode the 1975 Act’s usual requirement that the applicant was dependant on the deceased.  
  • The 3 charities have now obtained leave to go to the UK Supreme Court. It will now consider whether the EWCA’s decision, based on the standard of the claimant’s living, was wrong.
  • It will also consider whether the decision to allow Mrs Ilott to continue to receive state benefits was correct.

This case has generated a lot of debate, and some argue that the decision to grant Mrs Ilott part of her mother’s estate (against the terms of her Will), will make it easier for other adult children who have been excluded from their parent’s Will to do the same. It has also been argued that if the Supreme Court allows the charities’ appeal, it will make it more difficult for others to mount a challenge under the 1975 Inheritance Act.

This case has also caused considerable concern to our clients. There are families that become estranged, leading to parents having very definite views on which of their children should inherit their assets, and which should be excluded.

It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court allows the appeal.

Will we be able to go back to the prior basic position that (having dealt with the need to make reasonable financial provision for a spouse and for financial dependents) we can leave our assets to whoever we choose? Alternatively, will it still be advantageous for a client wishing to favour charities in their Wills at the expense of their children to prepare a long and detailed letter setting out why?

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