Much has been written about the recent decision in the well publicised case of Ilot v Mitson. In this case the Court of Appeal awarded the estranged daughter of a lady called Melita Jackson a third of her estate (which in total amounted to £250,000), despite the fact that Mrs Jackson made clear that she did not want her to inherit anything. Rather, she left her estate divided between several national animal welfare charities. She left nothing to her only child. In a document accompanying her Will she said “I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate”. Her daughter had eloped at the age of 17 in 1978 and since then, save for one or two brief reconciliations, had been estranged from her mother.
The fact that the Court awarded Mrs Ilot about one third of the estate has been greeted with outrage in various quarters. The Daily Mail in an opinion piece said “Who are Judges to tell us who to leave our money to in our Wills?” – this was fairly typical of the reaction of many people.
Decisions as to whether or not Claimants are entitled successfully to challenge Wills (often of parents) depend upon the circumstances in each individual case and, in particular, the financial needs of the Claimant. In this case, Mrs Ilot’s resources, even with State Benefits, were at a very basic level and the Court found this outweighed the importance that would normally be attached to her being an adult child who had been living independently for many years.
If you are disappointed as to what a Will may or may not have left you, or if you are facing a challenge as an Executor by somebody who is annoyed that they have not been left anything, you should take legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity. A few points to note are
- If you deliberately leave a child out of your Will, this is a bold step and has been suggested to be an invitation to litigation.
- Challenges to Wills of this kind can tie an estate up for a long time and cost significant amounts of money.
- In addition, emotions tend to run high, especially as parties are often family members fighting with each other.
- People often include a statement in their Will or in a separate document that they have deliberately decided to leave somebody out. These can be both a good and a bad thing. They can show the person who has died as being unreasonable or vindictive and this may just provide ammunition for those who want to make a claim.
If you are involved in a claim, bear in mind that most of them do settle before getting to Court. Be open minded and remember that, in most settlements, no one gets exactly what they want. Every case is different and, as suggested above, fact specific.
The Ilot case went on for ten years – be warned.