Supreme Court rules against inheritance challenge in landmark case

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The Supreme Court has ruled an estranged daughter who challenged her mother’s will does not have the right to a six-figure sum from the estate.

In 2007 Heather Ilott brought a claim against the estate of her mother Melita Jackson after discovering the entire estate, worth a six-figure sum, had all been left to charity.

Ilott and her mother had been estranged for 26 years in the run-up to Jackson’s death, after Ilott left home at 17 to live with her now husband with whom she has five children.

Ilott and her family received a number of benefits, with a net annual income of around £20,000.

In her last will of 2002, Jackson made no provision for her daughter in her will, a decision going back to an earlier will dated 1984.

A district judge originally awarded Ilott £50,000 as it found Jackson did not make reasonable provision for her daughter. The Court of Appeal increased the award to £143,000 so that Ilott could buy the home she lived in, plus an option to receive £20,000. The award was designed to avoid impacting Ilott’s benefits entitlement.

The charities that were nominated in Jackson’s will then challenged the decision, with the case heard by the Supreme Court in December.

Handing down the unanimous ruling today, the judges reinstated the district judge’s initial award of £50,000.

In a statement, the judges say: “For an applicant other than a spouse or partner, reasonable financial provision is limited to what it would be reasonable for her to receive for maintenance only.

“Maintenance cannot extend to any or everything which it would be desirable for the claimant to have, but is not limited to subsistence level.”

Old Mutual Wealth tax and financial planning expert Rachael Griffin says: “This case was the first of its kind to be brought to the highest level of the UK’s justice system. Their decision shows the limit of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and – reduces the likelihood of more cases of grown-up children challenging inheritance and wills.

“However, this case has highlighted that wills can be contested and the decisions are not set in stone. People should consider lifetime planning using trusts, which have both tax benefits and offer the opportunity to gain greater control over the distribution of wealth on death.”