Testamentary freedom – has Ilott made any difference?
18th September 2017 by Rob Kelly
Following a 10 year lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned a six figure sum awarded to a woman who was left out of her estranged mother’s will after three charities appealed the decision.
The case involved a claim by Heather Ilott (Ilott v The Blue Cross and ors  UKSC 17) against the estate of her mother, Melita Jackson. Heather Ilott left home in the night to go and live with her boyfriend, Nick. She was aged 17 and had lived with her mother for the whole of her life. She left no note and when her mother found out where she had gone she refused to have anything to do with her, a position which largely subsisted for the next 26 years. Before her death, Melita made a will. She left her estate to three charities and prepared a letter which explained why she had made no provision for Heather. She asked her executors to fight any claim her daughter might make.
Heather did make a claim against Melita’s estate and so began a lengthy litigation process as follows:
- The district judge found that Melita’s will did not make reasonable financial provision for Heather and awarded her £50,000. 
- Heather appealed that decision seeking a larger award and the charities cross-appealed seeking an order that the claim should fail completely. The charities’ cross-appeal was heard first and was successful so the court did not rule on Heather’s appeal. Heather’s award of £50,000 was overturned. 
- Heather brought a second appeal, against the charities’ successful appeal. The Court of Appeal allowed Heather’s appeal and restored the original award of £50,000. 
- Heather appealed a second time to the Court of Appeal, this time against the original award of £50,000. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and re-evaluated the claim and awarded Heather £143,000 to buy the home she lived in, and an option to receive £20,000 in one or two instalments (so as to avoid affecting Heather’s benefits entitlement). 
- The charities appealed to the Supreme Court, which reinstated the award of £50,000 made by the district judge (way back on 2007). 
How might the Supreme Court’s decision impact on you?
The Supreme Court’s judgment confirms that testators are free to choose who inherits their estate when they die, subject always to legitimate claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
Adult children still fall within the classes of persons who are eligible to bring a claim for financial provision, for their maintenance, under the act. That has not changed.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the judgment is that more significance is likely in future to be given to granting such claimants a life interest in property, where appropriate, rather than ordering a lump sum payment. That option has always been there but the Supreme Court’s judgment has strongly endorsed the use of that option in cases of adult child claimants.
If you would like further information please contact Rob Kelly.