EWCA Civ 797, the Supreme Court recently considered the question of financial provision for an estranged child.
A long running case about who someone can leave their estate to in their Will has recently hit the headlines. This case has been rumbling on for nearly ten years. Mrs Jackson died in 2004, aged 70, leaving most of her estate worth nearly £500,000 to three charities. She made no provision in her Will for her daughter, Heather Ilott who had eloped with her boyfriend at the age of 17. Heather had subsequently become estranged from her mother. Was she now entitled to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 on the basis that she had five children, was receiving state benefits and needed the money? Her husband had back problems and was unable to work full time.
The Court awarded Mrs Ilott £50,000. However, she appealed to the Court of Appeal on the basis that the only effect of this award was to make her ineligible for state benefits until this sum was reduced to £16,000. It was not enough to enable her to buy her house from the Housing Association where she lived.
Mrs Ilot was, however, successful as we know in the Supreme Court who awarded her roughly a third of the estate. This would allow her to buy her house from the Housing Association and also retain her means tested benefits.
In my view, part of the Judgment is particularly significant when Lady Justice Arden explained “the daughter’s resources even with state benefits are at such a basic level that they outweigh the importance that would normally be attached to the fact that she is an adult child who had been living independently for so many years”.
Some of the media articles have suggested that this is the Supreme Court making new law. However, in my opinion, the law has not changed. There has always been a responsibility to provide in your Will for dependants and children where appropriate.
A significant factor in this case was that Mrs Jackson had no significant connection with the charities and in those circumstances the Supreme Court pointed out that they had not demonstrated any need or expectation of benefit.
Does this case mean that in making a Will people have to leave money to children they do not want to? Each case needs to be looked at. There is always a responsibility to consider in a Will the needs of people who are financially dependent. However, successful claims by potential adult beneficiaries who are capable of working are rare. This case does, however, illustrate two things – contents of a Will needs to be carefully considered. There will always be cases where families challenge provisions in a Will but if a Will is carefully written these can be minimised.