The long-running saga of Ilott v Mitson drew to a close today with the handing down of the Supreme Court’s decision in the matter. This is the first time the Supreme Court has ruled on a claim under the Inheritance Act legislation (which allows a judge to alter the distribution of a deceased’s estate in certain circumstances).
Heather Ilott, who was estranged from her mother for 26 years before her mother died, was left out of her will. Mrs Ilott challenged this following her mother’s death and was awarded £50,000 out of the £480,000 estate, at the expense of the mother’s chosen charity beneficiaries.
Mrs Ilott subsequently challenged the amount she received and was awarded £143,000 to buy her rented house, and a lump sum of £20,000. The charity beneficiaries appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed with the charities and reinstated the original £50,000 award.
The result will be a relief to charities who rely on legacy income. Indeed, the Supreme Court justices indicated that the fact that charities do not have a financial need or expectation from an estate should not be a determining factor in making an award to a claimant.
The Court also said it cannot be ignored that any award comes at the expense of those the testator chose to benefit (be they charities or otherwise).
Commenting on the decision in City A.M., partner, Gareth Ledsham said: “It was never intended that the legislation should act as a spring board for disgruntled adult children to challenge their parents' testamentary freedom, just because they consider a will's dispositions to be unfair."
The Court also emphasised that any change to a testator’s will could only be for the maintenance of the claimant, that is day to day expenditure. Claimants should not necessarily expect to receive an appreciating asset.
While each case will turn on its own facts, charities should feel emboldened to resist claims in appropriate cases to protect the vital income they put to use for the public benefit.