I recently blogged about the case of Ilott v Mitson, to be heard by the Supreme Court in mid-December. As I said then, the judgment in this case is much awaited, because it is expected that the judges will provide some guidance and clarity on how to approach claims for maintenance by adult children of the deceased. One of the questions which the practitioners are expecting the court to answer is: to what extent a “lifestyle choice” made by the child should impact on the provision to be made for them.
In the case of Ilott v Mitson, Ms Ilott chose a husband her mother did not approve of. She chose to have 5 children. She also chose to live in a remote location, despite not being able to drive. Her choices directly contributed to her financial predicaments and led to her estrangement from her mother. Despite that, the Court of Appeal held that the “lifestyle choices” made by Ms Ilott should not deprive her of an award.
The decision recently reached by the court in the case of Ames v Jones, another claim by an adult child, may have therefore come as a surprise.
Facts of Ames v Jones
Ms Ames is in her early 40s. She has two teenage daughters. She is not working and is totally financially dependent on her partner. In their evidence they said they find it impossible to make ends meet each month.
Ms Ames made a claim for a provision to be made to her out of the estate of her deceased father. He died leaving a Will in which he left his entire estate to his second wife. The deceased married his second wife not long before his death, but the couple was together for over 30 years. The widow is now in her 60s and in poor health. Contrary to reports made by the press, the net value of the estate is under a million. Its main asset is the matrimonial home in which the deceased and his wife lived and which the widow continues to occupy.
The decision in Ames v Jones
The first instance judge rejected Ms Ames’ claim. Headlines such as “a daughter refused a slice of her father’s fortune” appeared in nearly all national newspapers throughout September and October of this year.
In reaching his decision the judge took into account the fact that whilst the value of the estate may seem large, the capital is locked in a house which the widow needs. The judge commented that it would be unreasonable to expect an ill lady in her 60s, whose income is just about sufficient, to borrow against her home which is also a source of her income.
The judge’s decision was heavily influenced by the poor quality of evidence as to Ms Ames need and his opinion of Ms Ames as an unreliable witness. He was unable to conclude if Ms Ames and her partner were able to make ends meet or not. However, what sparked most discussion is the conclusion that whilst Ms Ames was not working, she was able to work and it was her “lifestyle choice” not to do so. The judge said that this in itself, was sufficient to defeat her claim.
Some say that the fact that in Ms Ames’ case the “lifestyle choice” had the potential of totally defeating her claim is at odds with the decision in Ms Ilott’s case. I do not necessarily agree with that. The two cases are different and each was decided on its own facts. However, especially now, given the publicity and comments which the Ames case received, it will be very interesting to see what guidance, if any, the Supreme Court gives on the issue of “lifestyle choice” in its judgment following the hearing of the Ilott case this December.