Ilott v Mitson [2017] UKSC 17 What does this case mean for Testators and Beneficiaries?

March 10th, 2017

On 15th March 2017 the Supreme Court reached a final decision in the above case. This is a landmark case, as it is the first case of it’s kind (concerning the Inheritance (Provision for Family Dependants) Act 1975) to reach the Supreme Court, being the highest court in the land.

The starting point is that everyone making a Will in England has the freedom to do whatever they want. The caveat to this is that there are certain people who can make a claim against the estate (under the above legislation) if they feel that they have not been left ‘reasonable financial provision’.

There have been many cases concerning ‘reasonable financial provision’, but this is the first case to reach the Supreme Court. In this case an estranged daughter made a claim against her late mother’s estate, as the Will benefited charities rather than the daughter.

In the first instance, the District Judge decided that the daughter had not been left reasonable financial provision, and awarded the daughter the sum of £50,000. The case was appealed for a number of reasons, but the outcome in the Court of Appeal was that the award to the daughter was increased to £143,000 to allow her to purchase a property plus an additional sum of £20,000.

The case was appealed again and reached the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court allowed the charities’ appeal and reinstated the original award of £50,000 given at trial.

The judgment is lengthy and complex. However it is important, because the most senior judges have provided important guidance on the Act for future cases.

The Supreme Court emphasised that for adult children awards should be limited to ‘maintenance’ and no more than this. It was never the intention of the legislature to enable the Act to be used as a mechanism for Claimants to argue for a legacy that they believe they were entitled to but did not receive.

The judgment also makes it clear that ‘maintenance’ does not necessarily mean providing for every need that the claimant has. The actual award given may not reflect the full extent of a Claimant’s needs.

The judges did make the comment that they did not think the Court of Appeal gave enough weight to the clear wishes of the mother, who did not want her daughter to benefit from the estate. They also felt that the Court of Appeal did not give sufficient weight to the estrangement between the parties, although acknowledged that an award should not be seen as a penalty for the relationship between the parties. The Court also emphasised the need to consider the impact that any award would have on the intended beneficiaries, in this case the charities.

This case may be of some comfort to testators. It also highlights the point that when making a Will, the testator should always seek legal advice, in order to safeguard (so far as is possible) the provisions within the Will against any potential beneficiaries who wish to make a claim.

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