An estranged daughter has lost a supreme court bid to overturn her mother’s will, which excluded her only child and left her £0.5m ($0.6m, €0.57m) estate to three animal charities, in a decision that leaves things “slightly confused”, says Old Mutual Wealth’s Rachael Griffin.
Supreme court judge Lade Hale said: “This case raises some profound questions about the nature of family obligations, the relationship between family obligations and the state, and the relationship between the freedom of property owners to dispose of their property as they see fit and their duty to fulfil their family obligations.”
“This case was the first of its kind to be brought to the highest level of the UK’s justice system,” said Griffin. “The decision by the court leaves things slightly confused.”
After leaving home in 1978, at the age of 17, to secretly move in with her boyfriend, Heather Ilott’s relationship with her mother Melita Jackson irrevocably broke down.
The two women remained estranged until Jackson’s death at the age of 70 in 2004.
Jackson wrote her will in 1984 and stated that she had had to hear about the birth of her grandson from Ilott’s in-laws.
Jackson stated that she had visited her daughter in hospital and taken gifts but that Ilott “made herself very unpleasant and wished to have nothing to do with me”.
“Therefore, she receives nothing from me at my death,” the will stated.
When updated in 2002, Jackson’s wish that her daughter inherit nothing was restated in her will. She also instructed her executors to resist any claims that Ilott might make.
Ilott was aware of her mother’s wishes.
Jackson left her estate to three animal charities, The Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), with which she had had no particular connection during her lifetime.
The estate, of which the largest element was a house in the home countries, was valued at around £486,000.
A district court awarded Ilott £50,000 in 2007, which was deemed to be a ‘reasonable provision’, in accordance with the Inheritance (Provision for Family Independence) Act 1975.
The charities did not appeal the decision.
After several other court appearances, Ilott’s provision was increased in 2015 when the court of appeal ruled that she would otherwise face a life of poverty.
She was awarded £143,000 to buy the housing association property in which she lived and a further £20,000.
During the hearing, Jackson was described as capricious and harsh and was said to have unreasonably excluded Ilott from her will.
Animal charities appeal
The charities, to which Jackson bequeathed her estate, appealed the court’s decision to increase Ilott’s provision largely on principle because of the potential impact of the decision on other cases.
The supreme court found in favour of the charities on Wednesday and reduced Ilott’s sum to the original £50,000.
“While reducing the amount, still granting Heather Ilott part of her mother’s estate keeps the door open for other cases of a similar kind to progress,” said OMW’s tax and financial planning expert Griffin.
“To avoid the scenario altogether people should consider lifetime planning using trusts, which have both tax benefits and offer the opportunity to gain greater control over the distribution of wealth on death.
“A scenario such as the Ilott case is also unlikely to occur as the 1975 Act does not apply to lifetime planning. Plus, distribution of trust assets against the terms of a trust would be a breach and could be legally challenged. A bonus is trusts are confidential, so unlike wills they do not currently become public knowledge.
She concluded: “The distribution of wealth upon death has become more complicated in recent years. It is important to carefully plan for how you wish your money to be divided upon your death and seeking financial advice is the best place to start.”
Original article by Kirsten Hastings published on the International Adviser website