10th August 2015

Greater scope for challenging a Will

Following the latest instalment in the long running case of Ilott v Mitson the Court of Appeal may have made it easier for adult children to challenge wills if they do not believe that they have been left reasonable financial provision by their parent. This could lead to an increase in the number of estates being disputed and of claims for greater sums by way of reasonable provision. It is also felt that this judgment potentially reduces a person’s freedom to leave their estate to whoever they wish.


This case concerned the estate of Melita Jackson. Mrs Jackson died in 2004 leaving a legacy of £486,000 to three animal charities. She had one daughter, Heather Ilott, who challenged the will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 claiming that she had not been left a reasonable provision by her mother.

Mrs Ilott and her mother had been estranged for some 26 years, since Mrs Ilott left the family home at 17 when she went to live with her boyfriend. Following the breakdown in their relationship, Mrs Jackson had made it very clear that she did not want to leave any of her estate to her daughter.

The decision

The Court of Appeal had to decide whether it was correct to allow a reasonable provision from the will for the daughter. In 2007 the Court made an award of £50,000 in favour of the daughter. This decision was appealed and subsequently cross appealed by the charities. The Court of Appeal had to consider what award would be appropriate to give to the daughter, if any. It was decided that the daughter, who it was said lived in “straitened” circumstances, should receive approximately one third of the estate, being £163,000. This amount was to be broken down to £143,000 to enable the daughter to purchase her housing association property and a further amount not exceeding £20,000 for her maintenance.

The Court concluded that by leaving nothing to her daughter and her entire estate to the animal charities, the mother was acting in an “unreasonable, capricious and harsh” way towards her daughter.

The feeling is that following this ruling there may well be an increase in adult children making claims against their parents’ wills. It is however, important to note that this case concerned an adult child on state benefits, whilst the Court of Appeal was influenced by the fact that Mrs Jackson had no apparent connection with the charities during her lifetime and that those charities had no financial ‘need’, whereas the daughter did. Ultimately, any award is at the discretion of the Court and all cases turn on their own facts.

It is important when making or changing your will that all relevant factors are considered and that you have regard to any potential claim against your estate. Specialist legal advice should be sought at an early stage and if you require advice on making a will please contact Robert Sawers, Cara Hughes or Clare Ridout at MacDonald Oates (Petersfield) on 01730 268211 or James Sawers or Jessica Pye at MacDonald Oates  (Midhurst) 01730 816711.

Alternatively, if you find yourself in the position where you have been excluded from a will or where you feel that the will does not make reasonable financial provision for you, it is important that you take legal advice at the earliest opportunity to consider any possible grounds for pursuing a claim. In those circumstances, please contact Patrick Jenkins at MacDonald Oates on 01730 268211. At MacDonald Oates we offer specialist, tailored advice to our clients and our contentious and non-contentious teams include members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS).