The UK’s Supreme Court has overturned a decision to award a six-figure sum to a daughter who was left out of her estranged mother's will, after an appeal by three charities.
Melita Jackson died at the age of 70 leaving a net estate worth £486,000. Her will left £5,000 to the BBC Benevolent Fund and the remainder to three charities - Blue Cross, RSPB and RSPCA.
Mrs Jackson left nothing to her estranged daughter, Heather Ilott. Mrs Ilott had left home with a boyfriend at the age of 17 and her mother had apparently never forgiven her and excluded her from her will making it clear she did not want her daughter to inherit anything.
In 2007, Heather Ilott challenged her mother Mrs Jackson’s will after discovering she had left her estate entirely to charities.
In July 2015, the Court of Appeal granted Mrs Ilott an award of over £143,000 from her mother’s estate. But the charities then challenged this decision and took the case to the Supreme Court, which heard the case on 12 December 2016.
This morning the Supreme Court decided to overturn the appeal and said the entire six-figure sum should be left to the charities.
- Read more about the case in How money can tear your family apart
“The case highlights that wills can be contested”
Rachael Griffin, tax and financial planning expert at Old Mutual Wealth says: “This case was the first of its kind to be brought to the highest level of the UK’s justice system. The decision reduces the likelihood of more cases of grown-up children challenging inheritance and wills. Some other countries such as France have the concept of ‘forced heirship’ where certain heirs receive priority or specified shares. One of the cornerstones of English law is the principle of testamentary freedom – the Supreme Court’s judgement reinforces the importance of this.
“However, this case has highlighted that wills can be contested and the decisions are not set in stone.”
Ms Griffin recommends people 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 bonus is trusts are currently confidential, so unlike wills they do not become public knowledge.
“The distribution of wealth upon death has become more complicated in recent years,” says Ms Griffin. “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.”
Paula Myers, expert Will disputes lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, says: “Each case contesting a Will is decided on its individual merit, but this Judgment could potentially make it more difficult for adult children to challenge their parent’s Wills under the Inheritance Act and it may give people executing a Will greater strength to resist any challenges. It may also give people the peace of mind for people writing a Will that their wishes will be followed, and children can still be disinherited, unless certain criteria are met by the challenging party.”