Ilott v Mitson – Good Riddance or à bientôt?

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The Supreme Court has today reduced the amount paid to the daughter of a lady who left her estate to charity rather than providing for her.

In the summer of 2015 the case, not for the first time, hit the headlines, when the Court of Appeal tripled an initial award to Heather Ilott of £50,000. The press were outraged that a person was not allowed to leave their estate to whoever they wanted and a flurry of hopeless cases were brought by disgruntled children who had, for whatever reason been cut out of their wills.

The problem was that in my view Ilott v Mitson was only ever based on the existing law of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. The Court found that Mrs Jackson (the deceased mother) had a moral and legal obligation to provide for her daughter. This was not entirely new, the act has been in place since 1975 and had its own predecessors, and under the act an adult child has always been able to claim for reasonable financial provision. What was perhaps different here was the large amount that the Court of Appeal awarded. They essentially said that there was a duty for the mother to make sure the daughter was adequately housed.  Many people, including now the Supreme Court, considered that that was far too high an award and that there was no such obligation for the mother to house her daughter.

Perhaps of some relevance is the fact that the beneficiaries of the will were charities and that the Court may not have found it overly problematic to take money from charities with whom Mrs Jackson had had little or no connection, that Mrs Illot has still been left with an award and there is a suggestion that there is a behind the scenes compromise with the charities and that the case has rumbled on for thirteen years since Mrs Jackson’s death in 2004.

I therefore think that the case is, and always has been, a bit of a one off. Claims can still be made. However some of the more spurious cases that have been brought on the back of Ilott v Mitson may hopefully now ebb away.

Do you need advice on wills and probate matters? Contact Dominic Mackenzie, Head of Wills and Probate, today.

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