Inheritance Tax  

Supreme Court ruling makes it difficult to challenge wills

Supreme Court ruling makes it difficult to challenge wills

Today’s (15 March) Supreme Court judgment in the landmark case of Illott vs The Blue Cross and others has made it difficult for adult children to challenge their parent’s wills.

In 2007 estranged daughter, Heather Ilott challenged her mother Melita Jackson’s will after discovering she had left it entirely to charities. 

She left her estate worth around half a million pounds to the RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross animal charities.

In July 2015, the Court of Appeal granted Ilott an award of more than £143,000 of her mother’s estate to buy the rented home she was living in and a further £20,000 in cash as additional income which was an increase from the £50,000 she was given at the High Court.

Ms Ilott had left home with a boyfriend at the age of 17 and her mother had apparently never forgiven her and excluded her from her will making it clear she did not want her daughter to inherit anything.

However the Court of Appeal judges ruled Ms Ilott, who has five children, was not given a reasonable provision from the estate for her future maintenance as she was on benefits and had no pension. 

They also added that Mrs Jackson had 'no connection' with the charities during her lifetime.

The charities then challenged the decision and took the case to the Supreme Court who heard the case on 12 December 2016. 

This morning (15 March) the Supreme Court decided to overturn the appeal and said the entire six-figure sum should be left to the charities.

The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the Court of Appeal decision and re-instated a District Judge’s award of just £50,000.

Paula Myers, will disputes lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said this judgment could potentially make it more difficult for adult children to challenge their parent’s Wills under the Inheritance Act and it may give people executing a will greater strength to resist any challenges. 

Ms Myers said: “It may also give people the peace of mind for people writing a will that their wishes will be followed, and children can still be disinherited, unless certain criteria are met by the challenging party.

“The judges did give some clarity on what is considered to be a reasonable maintenance for non-spouses and felt that in this particular case there were no grounds for overturning the original order of £50,000 made by the district judge, dismissing the Court of Appeal decision to award £163,000. 

“They outlined that reasonable provision could include a life-interest for provision of housing, rather than a large capital sum.”

Jonathan Fowles, barrister from Serle Court, said the judgment would be a welcome relief for charities.  

Mr Fowles said: “Donations on death represent a very large section of charitable income in England and today’s ruling goes some way to protecting that income from potential claims.