Supreme Court to determine what is ‘reasonable provision’ in the case of disputed wills

History could be made to today with the Supreme Court set to determine and clarify what ‘reasonable provision’ is in the case of disputed wills. Animal charities are appealing an earlier 2015 Court of Appeal decision in favour of Heather Ilott, who had been excluded from her mother Melita Jackson’s will.

Heather Ilott, of Ware, Hertfordshire, eloped with her then boyfriend [later husband] when she was 17 and was subsequently excluded from her mother’s will as she did not want her daughter to receive a penny from her estate. Her mother, Melita Jackson, made her final will in 2002, and died in 2004 leaving her entire estate of £486,000 to the animal charities RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross; charities with which she importantly had little connection.

Mrs Ilott challenged the will claiming firstly that her mother’s actions were unreasonable, and secondly that she should have made reasonable provision for her daughter in her will. In an earlier hearing Mrs Ilott was awarded £50,000. She then challenged this decision but her appeal was rejected by the High Court. However, in a landmark decision the Court of Appeal overturned this judgement and awarded Mrs Ilott a third of her mother’s estate, with Lady Justice Arden claiming Mrs Ilott was not given a reasonable provision in her mother’s will and that the late Melita Jackson had been “unreasonable, capricious and harsh.”

The Supreme Court appeal in Ilott v Blue Cross and Ors, filed by the Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, will ask whether the Appeal Court was wrong to set aside the initial award and to allow Mrs Ilott to preserve her entitlement to state benefits.

What’s the significance of this appeal, and what impact will it have in future? Well, according to Paula Myers, head of the wills, trust and estate disputes team at UK firm Irwin Mitchell, if nothing else it will provide clarity on the Inheritance Act 1975 and set out clear guidelines for parents wishing to disinherit their adult children. Speaking to the Law Society Gazette she commented:

‘The [Appeal Court] ruling potentially made it easier for adult children who have been left out of wills to challenge them if they have not been left a reasonable provision and we have seen a rise in enquiries from people who feel that they have been unfairly disinherited,’ she said.

‘Whatever the Supreme Court decides, the judgment from this case will provide clarity to the Inheritance Act 1975 and likely set out the guidelines for when challenges can be brought to wills based on inadequate provision and set out the criteria which must be met in order to disinherit your adult children,’ she added.

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