August 03, 2017
Illot v The Blue Cross and others
Last week, the Supreme Court issued the final verdict in the case of a woman who made a claim for maintenance against the estate of her mother, whose Will had excluded her in favour of three animal charities.
The law says that you can make any provisions in your Will that you like, but you do need to make reasonable provision for certain people – your spouse, your children and others who have lived with you and depended on you for at least 2 years before your death. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 sets out the rules. A spouse will usually be entitled to about half of the joint assets (not necessarily half of your estate if the spouse has assets in their own name). Children and others are entitled to reasonable maintenance, which for adult children is usually nothing, as they are expected to be standing on their own feet.
In this case, the mother had an estate of about £500,000, which she left entirely to charity after becoming estranged from her daughter some years before. The daughter made a claim under the 1975 Act for maintenance from her mother’s estate, and was initially awarded £50,000. The 1975 Act gives Judges a lot of freedom to determine what is “reasonable maintenance”, and the original judge felt that in the particular circumstances of this case it was reasonable for the daughter to get something from her mother’s Will.
She appealed this sum as she felt that she had not been awarded enough, and the Court of Appeal decided to increase it to £163,000.
That was not the end of the matter, as the charities then appealed that decision further to the Supreme Court, who have now overturned the higher award and reinstated the original award of £50,000.
This is good news for the principle of our freedom to do what we like with our property in our Wills, but it does also emphasise the need to take advice when making a Will to be sure that your wishes are properly taken into account.