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Your will, your wishes? Protecting your estate from unwanted claims

 

Clearly setting out your wishes in a valid will is the single best way to ensure that your estate is distributed to your chosen loved ones, family members and friends in the event of your death.

However, things aren’t always as simple as they might seem, and disputes amongst family members who feel they have been unfairly treated by a will are common. In a recent landmark case, a daughter who had been estranged from her mother for more than 26 years was able to claim a total of £163,000 from the estate – despite the will clearly stating that she should receive nothing.

In this post, we take a look at the case, the ruling and how that will impact on future claims – whilst examining what you can do to prevent unwanted claims on your estate.

 

Case study – Ilott vs Mitson

 

Overview

When Mrs Jackson died in 2004, she set out her wishes clearly in a will – leaving her entire £486,000 estate to several animal charities.

Mrs Jackson had one daughter, Heather Ilott, who she had been estranged from for 26 years, following her daughter’s decision to leave home secretly to be with her boyfriend. The pair had never reconciled. Mrs Jackson’s will included a letter of wishes explaining her decision not to leave her daughter anything.

Mrs Illott challenged the will under The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 – a piece of legislation that sets out the standard entitlements a child should expect to receive from a deceased parent’s estate, taking into account the child’s income, savings and outgoings.

The case

The case and its subsequent appeals started in 2007, and is ongoing. In 2007, the district judge found that Mrs Jackson’s reasons for excluding her daughter from the will were harsh, unreasonable and unfair, and concluded that the will failed to make reasonable financial provision for Mrs Ilott, who lived a modest life and was reliant on state benefits. He awarded her the sum of £50,000 from the estate.

After numerous appeals and cross appeals in 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2015 on behalf of both Mrs Ilott (who claimed that the sum was too low) and the charities named in the will (that claimed no award should have been given), the court of appeal came to new decision in 2015.

The original sum of £50,000 was set aside (as this would have impacted on Mrs Ilott’s benefits) and awarded Mrs Ilott £163,000 to enable her to purchase her housing association property (under a Right to Buy scheme) and to have access to a lump sum of £20,000.

The results

The case is still ongoing, and the charities have now appealed to the Supreme Court...

 

What this means

In essence, the message to take from this case is that a will may not be sufficient to protect your estate from unwanted family claims – especially when it comes to your children.

In making the latest decision, the court considered a number of different factors, including the size of the estate, Mrs Jackson’s obligations to her daughter, and the needs of both Mrs Ilott and the charities named in the will.

Whilst the legislation behind this ruling is now more than 40 years old, this landmark ruling is evidence that the courts will err on the side of relatives, especially those of modest means, instead of charities. Had Mrs Jackson left the estate to closer blood relatives, the results may have been different.

Another potential impact of this case is that it may encourage other adult children to make claims against wills where they feel they have been unfairly treated.

 

How we can help

If you have a will, or intend to make a will that could leave one of your children feeling left out, hard done by or unfairly treated, it is important to take expert advice.

At Collier Law Solicitors, our experienced team will work with you to ensure that you understand the legislation, and the circumstances in which your wishes may be overturned by the courts. We can also advise you on whether your existing arrangements are likely to be contested, and the possible outcomes could this be the case.

We can help you to create a valid, legal will, whilst providing honest, expert advice on the best way of structuring your estate and setting out your wishes to minimise the risk of your estate being divided in ways you never intended.

 

For additional information, or to book a consultation, call 01904 427407 today.