A surprising decision by the Court of Appeal to award a daughter who had been deliberately excluded from her mother's will a substantial settlement from her estate will be unwelcome news to anyone keen to disinherit a family member in similar circumstances.
Heather Ilott was disinherited by her mother, Melita Jackson, after she had left home at the age of 17 to live with a man of whom her mother disapproved. This caused a rift which was never healed and Mrs Jackson took the decision when making her will to leave her entire estate to three animal charities with which she had no particular connection.
When her mother died, aged 70, Ms Ilott brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The Act allows someone who was dependent on a person who has died to claim against their estate for ‘reasonable financial provision’ to be made if such provision has not been made for them in the deceased's will, to prevent them becoming destitute. Ms Ilott was successful in persuading the Court that the absence of provision was 'unreasonable' – a remarkable result given that the two women had had no contact, let alone a relationship involving financial dependency, for years – and the amount of the award has now been assessed at £164,000.
Assuming the decision is not overturned on appeal by the Supreme Court, it represents a further instance in which the law has been considerably 'loosened' by the courts.
The circumstances which may have influenced the Court's decision were as follows. Firstly, Ms Ilott is dependent on state benefits. Had she been better off, her claim would have had less chance of success. Secondly, her exclusion was absolute, one of the appeal court judges describing it as 'harsh, unreasonable and capricious'. Thirdly, Mrs Jackson had no other close relatives to whom she could have left her estate.