Where There’s a Contested Will…

Andrew Oranjuik

Andrew Oranjuik

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Individuals who are ‘cut out’ of their parents’ wills could find it easier to claim part of their estate after a landmark legal ruling. This ruling, by the Court of Appeal, could pave the way for other wills to be overturned or changed by the courts, if deemed to be ‘unfair’.

This decision marks the culmination of a 10-year legal battle by Heather Ilott, who went to court after her mother, Melita Jackson, left her entire £486,000 estate to animal charities. Mrs Ilott, who has been estranged from her mother for 26 years and was claiming benefits, has now been granted a third of her late mother’s estate – a total of £164,000.

The decision could significantly weaken people's right to leave money to those they want to inherit it as it is arguably now easier for an adult child to make a claim for maintenance in the right circumstances. The case emphasises the long-established principle that the terms of a deceased person’s will do not always prevail.

There has long been the ability for children of deceased people to claim reasonable financial provision for maintenance. That often involves the child having relied on maintenance provided by the parent or being dependent. What is unusual about this case is that Mrs Ilott had been estranged from her mother for 26 years, and was not in any way dependent on her. 

The court was, however, influenced by other factors. Mrs Ilott had a very small income and received tax credits and she had no pension. The fact that the named charities were unable to establish a need for the entire estate was also a factor, as was the fact that Mrs Jackson had no previous connection with them.

Essentially, this ruling means you can still disinherit your children, but if you want it to stand up in court, you will have to explain why, as well as justify what connects you to those you do leave money to. This makes it easier for adult disinherited children to challenge wills and claim greater sums by way of what the courts would deem a ‘reasonable provision’.

All of this only serves to emphasise the importance of ensuring that you have taken steps to warrant that your wishes are properly fulfilled. What would be the fate of your business, should the worst happen? Who would be left responsible? If you are unable to answer these questions or if you wish to find out how you can make a will that reflects your wishes, contact our team today

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