Battle of the Wills: Disputing an Estate
The recent case of a disputed Will called the ‘Ilott case’ hit the headlines. Mrs Ilott successfully brought a claim again the estate of her late mother, Mrs Jackson.
Mrs Jackson and her daughter had been estranged for many years and Mrs Jackson had left all her estate under her Will to charity and had specifically said that she did not want her daughter to benefit.
Has the Ilott case changed the law?
It has been possible for certain categories of people to bring claims against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Under the provisions of that Act the court can consider whether the terms of the Will make reasonable financial provision for the person bringing the claim and sets out various factors which should be weighed up.
Historically it has been very difficult for a child of working age to bring a claim even if they really needed the money; they had to show that there was a special reason bearing in mind the factors set out in the Act. Accordingly each case will depend upon the facts but it is probable that this case will make it easier for adult children to make claims.
What were the ‘special factors’ in this case?
In this case Mrs Ilott and her family clearly had significant needs and so the court concluded that her moral claim was such that Mrs Jackson should have made some financial provision for her. Another key factor was that Mrs Jackson had acted in a manner which was clearly ‘unreasonable, capricious and harsh’. If it could be shown that Mrs Jackson’s main motivation was to benefit the charities (e.g. if she regularly made contributions to them) rather than simply to disinherit Mrs Ilott then, again, maybe the outcome would be different.
Does the new case mean that I can’t do what I like in my Will?
The principle that a person can leave their estate to the people they want remains but this case does mean that it is important to take advice from an expert. If you want to disinherit an adult child then your solicitor will consider with you the claims they may have, and may advise you to prepare a statement to be kept with the Will to assist in the event of a claim. It is not just the Will itself which is important but the advice you receive when the Will is made; a solicitor will do a detailed file note of this and this will be kept by them indefinitely. This should be reviewed on a regular basis in case the situation of the child changes and their needs increase (e.g. if they suffer an illness, bereavement or redundancy).