By James Acres
The Supreme Court has today handed down its long awaited decision in the case of Ilott v Mitson (as Ilott v The Blue Cross and Others  UKSC 17) which is currently garnering significant focus from the press.
The case concerns the operation of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the “1975 Act”); an act which provides a statutory mechanism for certain classes of person to make claims against a Deceased’s estate for financial award where the Will (or if not in existence, the Intestacy Rules) do not make reasonable financial provision for that individual. This specific case considered a number of issues surrounding the 1975 Act in particular its operation where the disappointed individual bringing the claim is (1) an adult child; (2) in receipt of state benefits; (3) was estranged from the testator (here the testator was the claimant’s mother who had been out of contact with her daughter, the Claimant, for some 40 years); and/or (4) the principle beneficiaries of the Will are charities with no apparent connection to the Deceased.
The case had previously been before the High Court, which awarded the Claimant £50,000 from the estate, and then the Court of Appeal which essentially tripled the award (the overall estate was roughly £480,000). Three charities who benefitted under the Will appealed the Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court.
Today’s judgment dismisses the Court of Appeal’s decision and upholds the High Court’s decision to award the Claimant £50,000. The basis for this decision is multi-faceted and as is noted by the Court for all such claims under the 1975 Act, very fact specific to the particular circumstances of the case. However, there are a number of conclusions from the judgment which are broadly of relevance to all parties thinking of bringing (or defending) a claim under the 1975 Act, including:
- The testator’s testamentary wishes under the Will should be given sufficient weight (the Court of Appeal having underplayed their relevance once it was established that the Claimant was entitled to bring a claim);
- Estrangement between the testator and the Claimant was a factor which should be given more weight when considering the potential award to a claimant;
- Awards to adult children should be specifically limited to “maintenance” – whilst inherently vague, this does not mean providing for everything that a Claimant may need but is also not limited to subsistence level. However, the Claimant’s needs will not be the measure of the award and other factors should also be given significant weight;
- Courts must consider whether any award will affect the recipient’s entitlement to state benefits;
- Beneficiaries currently under the Will (such as the charities here) do not need to justify their entitlement by their own needs or expectations;
- The general approach of courts to assessing any award should be a global exercise bearing in mind all the relevant factors under the court (as opposed to deciding a sum and then applying the relevant factors to either increase or decrease it).
Perhaps most tellingly, the Supreme Court recognised the many different outcomes that a Court could reach in these instances and how dependent each matter was on the specific facts.
Whilst Lady Hale concluded the Court’s judgment by noting the inadequacies of the current legislation in providing guidance on claims under the 1975 Act by adult children, the judgment nevertheless contains important points which will be of relevance when weighing up the strength of a potential Claimant’s claim under the 1975 Act.
TWM has a specialist team which deals with bringing and defending claims under the 1975 Act, as well as other issues concerning the operation of a Deceased’s estate, such as the validity of Wills and the behaviour of executors. Should you require advice on any such issue, please contact us and we will be happy to assist you.
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