I did a blog a couple of years ago following a very interesting development in Inheritance Act claims by adult children.
In the case of Ilott v Mitson  EWCA Civ 346, the Court of Appeal upheld the original County Court decision of a District Judge, to allow an adult, non dependant child, to bring a claim 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 a person’s estate, where they can show that they have not been sufficiently provided for.
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. Her mother then died in 2004 and her estate was valued at around £486,000. In her Will, Mrs Jackson had left everything to various charities.
Heather therefore brought a claim to challenge her mother’s Will under the Inheritance Act and ask the Court to make an order for reasonable financial provision. Heather told the Court that she had five children and was of very limited means, living largely on benefits and in a housing association home. In the County Court, in August 2007, a district judge awarded Heather £50,000 from her mother’s estate.
Heather then appealed the amount that she was awarded, hoping to obtain a much higher sum. The charities, who were the defendants in the case, then appealed the decision to award her anything at all. Previously, adult children who were not financially dependant upon their parents and were not suffering from any kind of disability or impairment were not entitled to anything and claims brought under the Act were usually unsuccessful.
In 2011, the Court of Appeal dealt with the Appeal by the defendants and determined that the District Judge was right, in the circumstances of this case, to find that Heather had not been reasonably provided for. The case was then referred back to the High Court, to deal with Heather’s appeal against the amount that she was awarded.
Last month, the High Court handed down their judgment in that appeal (Ilott v Mitson  EWHC 542 (Fam)), and upheld the County Court’s original award of £50,000 therefore dismissing the appeal. Awards under the Act are at the discretion of the Judge hearing the case and it is very difficult to appeal an order that is made based on judicial discretion. You have to show that the Judge’s decision was outside the range of reasonable disagreement, and this can be very difficult to do. The High Court reviewed all of the facts and circumstances and dismissed the appeal.
As a solicitor specialising in contested Wills and estates cases, 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 then disinherited by their children.
If you think you may have a claim against your late partner’s estate, it is important that you seek specialist legal advice as early as possible. The time limit for bringing these types of claim is very short, and you could miss out on your claim if you wait too long.
By Heather Korwin-Szymanowska
Inheritance disputes associate solicitor
For a fixed fee of £49.95, you can have a 30 minute appointment with Heather, either on the telephone, or face to face, depending on your preference. We will take some details from you before the appointment, and Heather 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.