Owen White & Catlin

Find your nearest office Arrow

Woman loses dispute with charities over her mother’s will

A woman has lost her legal battle with three charities over how much she should be allowed to inherit from her mother’s estate. 

The high profile case involved a mother and daughter who had been estranged from each other for more than 20 years. The rift happened after Heather Ilott eloped with her boyfriend at the age of 17. She married him and now has five children. 

Her mother, Melita Jackson, never forgave and her and cut her out of her will. In 2004, she wrote a letter to her solicitor saying: "I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate. I have made it clear to my daughter... that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die." 

Mrs Jackson then made a will leaving all her estate, valued at £486,000, to three animal charities. 

Following her death, Mrs Ilott challenged the will. The judge found in her favour and said that the mother had not made reasonable financial provision for her. 

However, he decided that any financial award he made for her should be limited because she had managed for many years on limited resources and had a lack of expectation. 

He awarded her £50,000. Mrs Ilott appealed because she would lose a greater amount in state benefits than she would gain from the award. 

The Court of Appeal held that the judge had made fundamental errors in his approach which meant that his award should be set aside. It awarded the daughter a total of £163,000. 

The charities appealed on the basis that people should be free to choose who should inherit their estate and how it should be divided. 

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favour of the charities. It held that the original award of £50,000 by the district judge had been the correct approach. He had worked his way through the relevant legal factors and recognised that the long estrangement was the reason for Mrs Jackson’s decision to leave her daughter out of her will. 

It meant that Mrs Ilott was not only a non-dependent adult child but had made her life entirely separately from her mother and lacked any expectation of benefit from her estate. 

As a result, the estrangement was one of the two dominant factors in the case; the other was Mrs Ilott's straitened financial position. The judge was entitled to reach the conclusion that there was a failure of reasonable financial provision, but what that reasonable provision would be was coloured by the nature of the relationship between mother and daughter. 

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of wills and probate.