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Illott v Blue Cross and Others – What is Reasonable Maintenance?

The long-running saga of the Will of Melita Jackson has finally reached a conclusion with Judgment handed down in the Supreme Court on 15 March 2017.
Mrs Jackson died in 2004, having made a Will many years earlier which expressly excluded her daughter Heather Ilott from whom she had been estranged over the previous 26 years. When Mrs Jackson died her daughter made a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 saying that she was entitled to “reasonable financial provision” from her mother’s Estate.
It became clear in the proceedings that Heather Ilott had left home at the age of 17 and moved in with a boyfriend who she later married. They had children but had not told Mrs Jackson of this and despite faltering attempts at reconciliation many years later, the relationship between mother and daughter was not repaired.
Mrs Jackson’s Will made clear her reasons for leaving her daughter out and instead left her Estate to a variety of charities. Her Estate was valued at £468,000.
At the initial trial in 2007, the District Judge carefully considered what the reasonable financial provision for Mrs Ilott should be and concluded, bearing in mind a number of factors including her reliance upon benefits and the capital rules relating to means-tested benefits, that the sum of £50,000 was a sufficient sum.
Mrs Ilott appealed and the Court of Appeal later awarded her the sum of £143,000 to allow her to buy her Housing Association property at a discounted rate and a further £20,000 in one or two lump sums. This approach significantly favoured the needs of family members over those of non-related beneficiaries and had a potentially serious impact on charities left legacies in Wills.
The “needs” of charities were considered by the Court of Appeal to have less weight than the “needs” of a family member, albeit one who had lived a wholly independent life over the previous 26 years.
This case has been backwards and forwards between Courts for over a decade and finally, in December 2016, the Supreme Court heard an appeal by the various charities who would benefit under the Will. This case had wider implications than just the Estate of Mrs Jackson – it impacts on the way that Courts will approach provision for adult non-dependant children of a deceased, the way that they will view legacies to charities as against claims by family members and of course in terms of the extent to which you can safely make a Will and expect the terms to be followed.
In Judgment handed down by the Supreme Court on 15 March, the Court held unanimously that Heather Ilott was not entitled to provision sufficient to purchase her house but, instead, the original decision of the District Judge was correct and should be reinstated.
The Court has very clearly stated that “It is not the case that once there is a qualified claimant and a demonstrated need for maintenance, the testator’s wishes cease to be of any weight.” The Court also pointed out that the mere fact that someone is in receipt of state benefits may of itself justify not making provision for them in a Will if to do so would be to remove their entitlement to support from the State.
The Judges in the Supreme Court were also clear that a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 is not intended to reward good behaviour of a claimant or to penalise “bad” behaviour – the test is simply one of what is reasonable, in the circumstances of the case, for the maintenance of someone qualified to make a claim and where a need has been demonstrated.
It may be that there will be further clarification of the application of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 in the coming months but this long-running case has certainly given some comfort to charities left legacies in Wills and provided some clarity on the extent to which reasonable financial provision for maintenance should be calculated.
To read the whole judgment click here
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