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The Curious Incident Of The Disinherited Daughter: The Ilott Saga Continues

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The long running case of Ilott v Mitson has taken another twist as the charity beneficiaries of the estate of the late Melita Jackson were recently granted permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision to award a disinherited daughter £164,000 of her late mother’s estate.   

As discussed in my previous article, the claimant, Heather Ilott was the only daughter of Melita Jackson. Mrs Ilott had left home at the age of 17 and married a man her mother did not approve of and as a result had become estranged from her mother. Whilst there had been some attempts at reconciliation, these had not been successful. When Mrs Jackson died in 2004, she left all of her estate worth £486,000 to be shared between three animal charities to which she had no connection. She left nothing to her daughter. Mrs Ilott and her husband were living on state benefits, in a housing association property and had 5 children. They had never had a holiday and had very little money for food and clothing.

Mrs Ilott made a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 on the basis that will did not make reasonable financial provision for her.  When determining what would be deemed “reasonable financial provision,” the Court looked at what would be reasonable for Mrs Ilott to receive for her maintenance.  The Court at first instance awarded her £50,000.  Both Mrs Ilott and the charities appealed and after various hearings, in July last year, the matter reached the Court of Appeal who increased Mrs Ilott’s award to £164,000, which represented about 1/3 of the estate.  The Court structured the award so as to try not to affect Mrs Ilott’s entitlement to state benefits.

As a result of this decision, there was much talk in the media that it marked the end of testamentary freedom and was a charter for lazy children to make claims against their parent’s estate.  The charities obviously agreed and they applied for, and were granted, permission to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. 

For the charities, it seems that the “principle” is very much worth fighting for as the decision in Ilott would set a dangerous precedent for residuary beneficiaries, especially for charities whose legacies are at risk of being significantly reduced by 1975 Act claims from disgruntled family members.  

It is worth noting that the legal costs, after nearly 12 years and numerous appeals, will be huge (I estimate to be well over £1million). So why do the parties continue arguing over the £164,000 Mrs Ilott was awarded as it is clearly disproportionate to carry on?  Well, as all the parties will know, the unsuccessful party is likely to be ordered to foot the very hefty costs bill incurred by both parties.  As it stands, after the Court of Appeal hearing, the legal costs would fall to be paid for by the charities. This means that could have over a £1million to pay in legal costs in addition to the £164,000 Mrs Ilott was  awarded.  These legal costs will outweigh the initial value of the estate which  will have long been swallowed up in legal costs so it is likely the charities would have to pay for the legal costs from their own pockets.  Therefore it seems there may be a “million reasons” for the parties to continue the fight to the bitter end.

Given it has taken 8 months just for permission to appeal to be granted, it is unlikely the case will come before the Supreme Court anytime soon.   Watch this space…….


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