The Supreme Court has overturned a decision to increase the sum of money left to a woman by her estranged mother. Heather Ilott brought a claim in 2007 after discovering the entire estate, worth approximately £486,000, had been left to animal welfare charities.
Ilott’s mother, Melita Jackson, omitted her daughter from her 2002 will as the pair had been estranged for 26 years. A district judge initially awarded Ilott £50,000 after ruling that the will did not make reasonable provision for her. Following this decision, the Court of Appeal increased the sum to £164,000, but this was challenged by the charities Jackson named in her will.
The Supreme Court said that although a surviving spouse or civil partner may have automatic inheritance rights, it rejected the idea that a surviving child would have the same rights. Although it said the moral obligation of raising a child was equal to providing for a spouse, it also argued that children play less of a role in creating family assets than a spouse.
In addition, the court argued that children are more likely to be self-supporting adults and it would be difficult for the system to distinguish between dependent and independent adult children. The court therefore ruled that Ilott’s sum should be reduced to the original sum of £50,000 and the remaining funds should be left to the charities originally included in her mother’s will.
Paula Steele, managing partner at John Lamb Financial Planning, says: “This case highlights the limitations of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and shows that the wishes of people who have made a will should always be considered.”