A Landmark Court Ruling

Alexander Newton

A landmark court ruling has confirmed that the wishes set out in a will are not guaranteed after a judge awarded £164,000 to a disinherited daughter.

Melita Jackson had left nothing to her estranged only daughter, Heather Ilott, after she ran away with her now husband at age 17. Instead Jackson, who died in 2004, bequeathed her £489,000 estate to the BBC Benevolent Fund, and three animal charities – the RSPB, RSPCA and Blue Cross.

Heather Ilott originally challenged the will in 2007 using the right to ‘reasonable provision’ contained in the 1975 Inheritance Act. She was initially awarded £50,000 from the estate but as her mother had requested the executors of her will fight any attempt by her daughter to challenge it, the matter then went to the High Court, which ruled Heather Ilott should not be awarded anything.

The matter finally went to the Court of Appeal where Justice Arden ruled Heather Ilott was allowed £164,000 to allow her to purchase her housing association home in Hertfordshire and provide her with a sum of £20,000 to supplement her benefits.

The Judge was careful that the award meant she would not lose her state benefits.

The fact that there was a financial need for the money, coupled with the fact that Melita Jackson had little connection to the animal charities played a part in the judge’s ruling.

The QC, acting for Ilott, said she had difficultly affording clothes for her family and was ‘limited in the food she could buy’. He also said Jackson was ‘unreasonable, capricious and harsh’ and had not left money to the charities because she supported the work but out of spite.

No ‘guarantees’ with wills

This case highlights the fact that wills are not ‘guarantees’ that your money would go where you wanted it to and that you cannot stop people from challenging them.

However, 6 out of 10 people in the UK do not have a will and drawing one up is the first step to have the best chance of speaking from the grave.

If you have an objection to a person receiving anything when you die then a ‘letter of wishes’ should be written to back up your will. This is a letter explaining why you have done what you have done. It is private and can go straight to your executor and you can say you are estranged from a particular person and they do not get anything.

Talk to other family members and explain what it going on. If you do nothing then it is open to everyone to inherit.

This also highlights the importance of planning ahead. Not only is it sensible to seek proper legal advice from an appropriately qualified and experienced solicitor, when drawing up your will. It may also be beneficial to transfer assets during your lifetime, to give you peace of mind that the right people benefit from your estate. This is best organised with the guidance of your solicitor and a Chartered Financial Planner, who will ensure that any lifetime gifts do not trigger a tax charges and do not leave you short of funds during your lifetime.

Senior Investment Manager

Alexander Newton