Last year in a case on family law, Ilott v Mitson, the Court of Appeal held that the late Mrs Jackson was not entitled to disinherit her adult daughter and leave the bulk of her Estate to charity. The case attracted much publicity. The Court of Appeal held that Mrs Ilott was entitled to approximately £163,000 out of the Estate of £486,000, whereas before she had been awarded only £50,000.
Was this family law case truly so newsworthy to attract so much publicity? After all, a child of the deceased remains a child even in adulthood and that child can make an application against the Estate for provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 “the Act”. That Act has been in existence since 1975 and sets out 7 statutory tests as to whether or not the deceased’s Will provides the adult child with reasonable financial provision.
Two of those tests are:-
1. The financial resources and needs that the applicant has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future
2. Comparing 1 above to the financial resources and needs that any other beneficiary is likely to have.
Over the years, the Family Law Courts have grappled with these and the other five tests, but seem to have established a need for moral obligation or special circumstances between the deceased and the adult child justifying financial provision. In around 1999, the Court of Appeal held that there was no rule that an adult child must show some moral obligation owed to them by the deceased and the Court reverted to the tests under the 1975 Act. The Court of Appeal, however, did consider the particular facts of this case.
In this case the deceased found it difficult to establish relations with her daughter and other members of her family and there was evidence that the deceased had acted unreasonably in rejecting her daughter and her family. The deceased for example did not approve of Mrs Illott’s relationship with her husband and when her daughter named her fifth child after the deceased’s mother-in-law, she did not approve of this either as she had fallen out with her mother-in-law!
It seems on further analysis of the case that Mrs Ilott succeeded not only because she was poor, but the charities had no expectation or particular need for the money and that the deceased had behaved unreasonably towards her daughter.
By way of future guidance, the following principles of family law are important;
1. It would be easier for an adult child to challenge the Will if the bulk of the Estate is left to charity, rather than a needy friend or relative.
2. It is always important to ensure that the deceased and the charity have an established relationship and this can help in any argument that the deceased is acting unreasonably.
3. It is always important to obtain a statement from the parent setting out the reasons why the child is being left nothing.
4. That statement must be accurate.
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