The Supreme Court today overturned the Court of Appeal’s controversial decision on the case of Illott v Mitson in an attempt to restore some clarity to the issue of adult children claiming reasonable financial provision from the estate of a deceased parent.
Who can bring a claim for further provision?
Whilst the general principle in English law is that any individual is free to leave their estate to whoever they choose on their death, the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 was introduced to allow certain classes of people connected to the deceased, who believed they should have been made provision for in the Will or been left a greater amount, to bring a claim against the estate for further provision.
What is “reasonable financial provision”?
The Court, in the case of a child of a deceased, is asked to consider what is “reasonable financial provision” for the child’s maintenance taking into account a wide variety of factors. If the Court considers reasonable financial provision is not made, they have a wide variety of powers at their disposal to alter the distribution of the estate to ensure that child is adequately provided for.
Historically, it has been very difficult for adult children to succeed in such claims as the Court tended to take the view that they should be self-sufficient and not reliant any more upon their parents for financial provision. However, the case of Illott v Mitson altered the position (albeit perhaps only temporarily).
The case of Illott v Mitson:
Daughter cut out of Will wins claim against mother’s wishes
The claimant, Heather Illott was estranged from her mother, Mrs Jackson, from the age of 17 and they never reconciled. When Mrs Jackson passed away, she left her entire estate worth nearly £500,000 to three charities with which she had little connection, excluding her daughter completely.
Mrs Illot was living in rented council accommodation, in receipt of benefits and had no pension. She brought a claim against Mrs Jackson’s estate under the Act for reasonable financial provision to be made for her and was awarded a lump sum of £50,000.
Court of Appeal triples daughter’s award
The Court of Appeal then (after many intervening Hearings where Mrs Illott lost the original award, had it reinstated and then had an application for the amount to be increased rejected) did increase this award to £143,000 to allow Mrs Illot to purchase her council property and a further £20,000 lump sum to provide her with some additional income.
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The Supreme Court have today overturned this decision and determined that the original award of £50,000 to Mrs Illott should stand.
In their ruling, the Supreme Court stressed that all of the relevant factors contained within Section 3 of the Act are to be given equal weight when considering what “reasonable financial provision” should have been made by the deceased for the applicant. There is therefore no objective standard in determining what reasonable financial provision for maintenance means.
Can any conclusions be drawn?
What is clear is that this area of law has no clear-cut answers and the Supreme Court’s decision has done little to clear up the uncertainty in this area given the wide variety of factors to be considered and the different approaches open to the Court. It remains to be seen whether the protracted nature of this case will see parliament make further changes to the law.
If a person wishes to make a Will and exclude an adult child they should bear in mind that their Will may be overruled after their death by a judge and should seek legal advice on the issue.
If you would like advice on these issues from a qualified and experienced solicitor please contact us.