Charities succeed in landmark Supreme Court ruling on claims against estates
The widely reported case of Ilott v Mitson has today come to an end, through the Supreme Court issuing its long awaited judgement in the case.
The case has made headlines during recent years, due to various appeals made by both the claimant and defendants against earlier decisions in the case.
The background of the case is that Mrs Ilott fell out with her mother, Melita Jackson, when she was 17 years old after eloping with her then boyfriend Nicholas Ilott. Mrs Jackson disapproved of Mr Ilott and she and her daughter subsequently became estranged for over 20 years.
All attempts at reconciliation failed and Mrs Jackson’s will left her £486,000 estate to a number of charities, with no provision made for her daughter.
Mrs Illot then brought a claim against Mrs Jackson’s estate for ‘reasonable financial provision’. In 2007, Mrs Illott was awarded £50,000 by the court. However, in 2009, both Mrs Ilott and the charitable beneficiaries brought cross-appeals against this decision. The charities’ appeal that Mrs Ilott’s claim should have failed was upheld and Mrs Ilott’s appeal to increase her £50,000 award was not heard, leaving her with nothing.
In 2011, Mrs Ilott brought a further appeal and her original £50,000 award was reinstated. Her appeal to increase this sum was then heard in 2015, resulting in the court granting her £143,000 to purchase her Housing Association home and also around £20,000 in cash.
The charities appealed the decision of the Court of Appeal and this was recently heard by the Supreme Court, which had to determine which of the previous decisions was correct.
Today, the Supreme Court’s judgement confirms that the charities’ appeal has been allowed.
The importance of this decision is that it provides clarity on claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 made by adult children. The Supreme Court has highlighted the importance of limiting awards to adult children to ‘maintenance’, rather than providing a claimant with everything that they may need financially.
The judgement also gives some weight to Mrs Jackson’s wishes, the period of estrangement between her and Mrs Illott and recognises the importance of charitable legacies by stating:
“…charities depend heavily on testamentary bequests for their work, which is by definition of public benefit and in many cases will be for demonstrably humanitarian purposes. More fundamentally, these charities were the chosen beneficiaries of the deceased. They did not have to justify a claim on the basis of need under the 1975 Act, as Mrs Ilott necessarily had to do. “