Adult Claimants and the Inheritance Act 1975

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The Updated Position- Ilott v Blue Cross – Supreme Court

On 15th March 2017 the Supreme Court gave its’ decision in the long running litigation of Ilott v Blue Cross (formerly Mitson) which had occupied the time of the High Court, Court of Appeal and latterly Supreme Court for 10 years.

Heather Ilott, a married woman and mother of five children, had been estranged from her mother Melita Jackson, for over 20 years prior to her mother’s death in 2004.  Mrs Jackson’s Will left her estate of £486,000 to charities including the Blue Cross, RSPB and RSPCA.  Nothing was left for Mrs Ilott, who lived in modest circumstances and would have been very grateful for some provision.

Mrs Ilot brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 in which she claimed that her mother’s Will produced an unreasonable outcome in not giving her any provision.

The District Judge found that Mrs Jackson’s Will had failed to make reasonable financial provision for her daughter and awarded the Claimant £50,000.

That decision was successfully appealed to a High Court Judge, who took a more traditional and hard lined approach to Mrs Ilott’s claim and essentially upheld the testatrix’s entitlement to leave her estate to the objects of her choice.

Undeterred Mrs Ilott appealed that decision, which came before the Court of Appeal in 2011.  The High Court’s decision was overturned and the case sent back to the High Court who heard the case and stood by the original award of £50,000. 

Mrs Ilott appealed against that decision, which came before the Court of Appeal in 2015 which decided that the original award was insufficient and awarded her £163,000, which included £143,000 to buy the property in which she was living and £20,000 to top up her income.

The Supreme Court has now given its decision.  Lord Hughes giving the leading judgment (with whom the other Judges agreed) overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision and restored the original decision by the District Judge namely that Mrs Ilott receive a lump sum of £50,000.  The principal points to arise from the decision are:-

The significance of testamentary freedom.A testator’s wishes are very much part of the circumstances of the case which cannot be ignored at the expense of beneficiaries chosen by the testator, even if they are charities and do not present the same need as individuals.

The estrangement between Mrs Ilott and her mother was not of little weight and could even lead comes Judges to conclude that the claim should be dismissed, but it was for the Judge to make a broad decision.

The concept of maintenance is broad, but must cater for everyday expenses of living.It is not limited to subsistence level.

If housing is provided by way of maintenance, it will probably more often be by way of a life interest rather than a capital sum.On the facts of the case dismissing the claim or awarding reasonable financial provision would have been legitimate outcomes in the case.Accordingly, the value judgment given by the trial Judge was all important and it would be rare for an appeal to succeed.

Lady Hale gave her own judgment and highlighted the unsatisfactory position of the current law.  There was in truth no guidance given in the 1975 Act as to how the various factors should be taken into account and ultimately decide whether an adult child was a deserving or undeserving of reasonable maintenance and that Judges will have a range of opinions.

Lady Hale sums up really the difficulty that remains with this area of law.  It is therefore something of a lottery.  The facts of the case in Ilott were exceptional and it is still going to be difficult to predict what provision ought to be given in an adult claim in any given case.  As ever careful analysis and advice followed by negotiation will be the key to success in any case.  Whether the case will be clarified by parliament remains to be seen.