They say charity begins at home, does it?

They say charity begins at home, does it?

Published: 24 April 2017

THEY SAY THAT CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME – DOES IT?

WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF YOU LEAVE YOUR ADULT CHILD OUT OF YOUR WILL – THE OUTCOME OF A RECENT SUPREME COURT DECISION FROM A LONG RUNNING SAGA 

Recently the long running case of Ilott v Mitson (Ilott v the Blue Cross and others) reached the Supreme Court in order to determine the extent to which people can exercise the freedom in their Wills to decide for themselves who they can leave their estate to when they die and for that matter who they can leave out.

The facts of the case were that a Mrs Melita Jackson had been estranged from her daughter Heather  Ilott since as long ago as 1978 and that rift never healed. Generally speaking Heather never had a great deal of money. She had to claim benefits and had little money to spare.

Mrs Jackson made a Will in which she left everything to various charities. She also wrote a Side Letter  in which she explained her reasons for excluding her daughter Heather altogether.  Melita Jackson subsequently died leaving an estate valued at almost £500,000.

In response to being excluded from her mother’s estate under the terms of her Will Heather applied to the High Court under the provisions of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for an Order in her favour for “reasonable provision” from the estate. This is an Act which enables a person who believes that they should have such an entitlement to make a claim. The grounds are set out in the Act and accordingly if the Court is satisfied that there is merit in the claim it can make an award of “reasonable provision” in favour of the claimant. However such a case will generally be opposed by the beneficiaries named in the Will as this will correspondingly reduce their eventual entitlement. In this case the beneficiaries were the charities one of which was called The Blue Cross.

In the event, having made her claim, a High Court judge awarded Heather Ilott £50,000 from her mother’s estate. This was the figure that the Court regarded was reasonable in all the circumstances. What happened then was that the charities appealed to a more senior High Court judge who dismissed Heather’s claim altogether. This meant that the charities would receive all of the estate and Heather nothing.

Heather, feeling aggrieved at this outcome considered that this award was unfair and so she appealed the matter to the Court of Appeal. The charities not surprisingly cross appealed.  

 The Court of Appeal decided that the awards of the High Court were insufficient for Heather’s needs and increased her entitlement from her mother’s estate to £143,000. The judges considered that this would make her life easier and it would remove some of the financial pressures to which she had been subject. Also it meant that she would not then need to claim various benefits.

But what about the charities?

The charities were unhappy with this result from the Court of Appeal and they took the matter to the Supreme Court which very recently gave its judgment in the case of Ilott v The Blue Cross and others.

Here the judges in the Supreme Court looked at the merit of all the claims and counter-claims made in both the High Court and the Court of Appeal and they reviewed the whole matter.

They came to the conclusion that the original award of the High Court was correct and that therefore Heather should get the £50,000 awarded to her in the first place. The Supreme Court judges broadly considered that there is a need to give sufficient weight to the wishes of the teststor in all this. Whilst the 1975 Act is designed to give redress to an aggrieved party, typically a family member, you should also give sufficient weight to all the wishes of the testator and his or her  reasons for excluding someone, in this case Mrs Jackson’s daughter Heather.

The charities in this case were relieved that they still received the bulk of the estate. Heather was less happy.

So what do we learn from this long running, not to mention expensive and time consuming saga?

When looking at both sides of the argument you realise that judges, even very senior judges can disagree on where the emphasis should lie in these competing claims. This makes it that much more difficult to predict the outcome from the point of view of both the people claiming under the 1975 Act and the beneficiaries named in the Will.

Howard Sykes

Property and Private Client Solicitor 

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.