An Update on Inheritance Claims by Adult Children
The dust has now settled following the Supreme Court’s decision in March in the most widely publicised inheritance case for many years.
To recap, Heather Ilott brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 against the estate of her mother, who passed away leaving a Will that divided her £486,000 estate between three charities.
Heather and her mother had been estranged for many years stemming from her mother’s disapproval of her choice of boyfriend.
Heather made a claim under the 1975 Act for reasonable financial provision and in 2007 the County Court awarded her £50,000. At an appeal hearing in 2009, the charities succeeded in their request for dismissal of Mrs Ilott’s claim. Mrs Ilott then appealed to the Court of Appeal and she succeeded, with the amount eventually being increased to £143,000, being the cost of buying her house.
March’s judgment allowed the charities’ appeal, and the first instance decision awarding Heather £50,000 was restored. The Supreme Court was unable to undo the original decision completely but there are indications in the text of the judgment that had they been able to, they probably would have and Heather would have then received nothing.
The decision was an important one, and goes some way to restoring the balance as many people believed that the courts had previously gone too far by ignoring the wishes of the deceased, who wanted to benefit the charities and not her estranged daughter.
In making their judgment, the Justices of the Supreme Court re-emphasised the importance of the freedom an individual has to make whatever bequests they wish in their Will, and that those wishes are not to be overruled lightly. It is now unlikely that an adult child, who is not very well off financially and has not been left anything in the Will, would succeed in bringing such a claim unless there is something else to potentially tip the balance in his or her favour, such as a disability or some sort of moral obligation brought about by previous events, such as promises made or dutiful conduct e.g. providing care for the deceased.
It follows that there are likely to be less claims by adult children in the immediate future as the status quo has very much been restored, thereby somewhat restricting opportunities for speculation by disinherited adult children. Potential claims by children under the age of 18, spouses, civil partners and cohabitees remain unaffected by the decision.