In a recent case, the Court of Appeal ruled that the estranged daughter of a woman who left most of her estate to charity could make a claim against her late mothers estate, under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (IPFDA 1975).
Malita Jackson died in 2004 aged 70, having left a Will in April 2002 giving her £486,000 estate completely to charity. Mrs Jackson had one daughter, who she specifically excluded. Her daughter, Heather Ilott had left home at 17 years of age, asking her mother to refrain from contacting her, and had spoken with her mother only twice since then. Mrs Jackson went so far as to leave a letter to her executors explaining her reason for excluding her daughter from her Will, and in fact had made a previous Will back in March 1984, which also excluded her daughter and stated reasons for this exclusion.
Despite all that Mrs Jackson had done to attempt to pass her estate to whom she desired, the Court decided that her daughter would now receive some provision. It is hard to envisage how Mrs Jackson could have made her wishes any clearer prior to her death.
The aim of the IPFDA 1975 is to allow people within certain categories who feel that insufficient provision has been made for them under a Will or intestacy, to make a claim for provision from the estate. This can include people who would not otherwise inherit automatically, such as unmarried partners, same sex couples etc. As such it is a useful tool to unravel what may have been done in a will if it is felt that the result of the inheritance is not fair or just.
In this case, Mrs Ilott, a mother of five who lives on state benefits, applied for provision from the County Court and was awarded £50,000 from the estate. She appealed to the High Court for greater provision, however, her claim was dismissed completely. With the aid of a pro-bono barrister Mrs Ilott challenged the ruling to the Court of Appeal and was successful. The actual sum she will receive from the estate will be decided at a later date.
The Court specifically stated that Parliament had brought legislation up to date from time to time and felt that the removal of previous more stringent restrictions on who could bring a claim made it clear that Parliament intended for an adult child to be able to bring a claim even if they could live without financial provision from the estate, and even where there had been no such financial provision during the deceased's lifetime.
The decision seems to indicate a general trend towards restricting more and more a person's freedom to do as they desire with their estate. This case seems to focus on fairness towards the person left behind rather than the person who made the Will.
The decision is likely to lead to a significant increase in the number of claims brought by adult children under the IPFDA 1975.
Wolferstans have a specialist Contentious Probate Department, therefore, if you require advice in regard to bringing or defending such a claim, please contact Samantha Buckthought on 01752 663295.