The Ilott v Mitson case continues to rumble on and cause drama in the world of inheritance disputes, some eight years after the original County Court judgment. The Court of Appeal yesterday overturned the original ruling that awarded Heather Ilott £50,000 from her mother’s estate, and increased it to £164,000.
The various judgments in this case so far have been of significant importance in relation to claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This Act allows people who were either relatives of, or dependant upon, the deceased, to bring a claim for reasonable financial provision from their estate, where they can show that they have not been reasonably provided for.
On the 7th August 2007, the County Court made the unique decision to allow an adult, non dependant child, to bring a claim under the Act, and awarded her the sum of £50,000 from the estate. Historically, adult children were rarely successful in claims under the Act, unless they had some form of dependency on the deceased, or disability providing a moral obligation to provide for them.
Heather Ilott, had fallen out with her mother Melita Jackson after leaving home when she was just 17 years old, and had little contact with her thereafter. They were estranged for around 26 years. Her mother died in 2004, and her estate was valued at around £486,000. In her Will, Mrs Jackson had left everything to various charities, and completely excluded her daughter. Heather issued her claim for provision under the Act, telling the Court that she had five children, and was of very limited means, living largely on benefits, and in a housing association home.
The charities appealed the County Court decision in the High Court, trying to argue that Heather should not be awarded anything from the estate, as she was a non-dependant adult child. The appeal was dismissed by the High Court.
In 2011, the case was brought before the Court of Appeal, and Heather cross-appealed, arguing that the amount of her award was too low, and was still not reasonable financial provision. The Court of Appeal upheld the District Judge’s decision that Heather was entitled to bring a claim under the Act and again dismissed the appeal.
The case was then referred back to the High Court, to deal with Heather’s appeal against the amount that she was awarded. In 2014, the High Court handed down their judgment in that appeal ( EWHC 542 (Fam)), and upheld the County Court’s original award of £50,000, therefore dismissing the appeal. The High Court was unwilling to interfere with the discretion of the original County Court Judge to make an award.
Heather appealed yet again, bringing the case back before the Court of Appeal earlier this year, and resulting in the judgment handed down yesterday ( EWCA Civ 797), which saw her award increased to £164,000 payment from her late mother’s estate, equating to around 1/3 of the net estate.
The Court of Appeal was very clear that the specific circumstances of this case are what has led to this increased award, namely the fact that the only other beneficiaries were charities rather than individuals; the charities were not ones that the deceased had any connection to during her lifetime; and Heather’s means were so limited, that it was reasonable for her to be provided for to a greater extent. The Court heard that Heather had never had a holiday, had difficulty affording clothes for the children and was limited in the food she could buy and that much of what she had was old or second-hand.
I do not believe that, as some have suggested, the floodgates are now open for adult children to bring a claim, however, for cases of this nature, it does mean that those in need may have a chance to bring a claim. As a solicitor specialising in contested Wills and estates cases, and member of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS), this decision is a very interesting one. Whilst it is based on a very specific and unique set of circumstances, it now creates opportunities for those children who are financially struggling, and are disinherited by their parents.
If you think you may have a similar claim, it is important that you seek specialist legal advice as early as possible. The time limit for bringing this type of claim is very short, and you could miss out if you wait too long.
For a fixed fee of £79.95, you can have a 30 minute appointment with myself, either on the telephone, or face to face, depending on your preference. We will take some details from you before the appointment, and I will then discuss your case with you, and what your options are. If your case is something that we can then help you further with, we can then discuss your funding options with you. For cases like this, we can sometimes consider a “no win no fee” agreement, depending on the circumstances of your case.
By Heather Korwin-Szymanowska, associate solicitor in the dispute resolution team.