A Hertfordshire woman will soon learn the outcome of her inheritance claim appeal, after her mother left her nothing in her Will. Mrs Ilott was awarded £164,000 by the Court of Appeal in 2015 from her mother’s estate worth £486,000. Three animal charities originally left the majority of the money appealed to the Supreme Court. The claim is brought under the Inheritance Act 1975. That Act partly qualifies the long established principle of ‘testamentary freedom’ a person’s right to dispose of his/her own property in any way they wish.
Mrs Ilott and her mother (Mrs Jackson) had become estranged many years before and attempts at reconciliation had failed. Mrs Ilott was a long term recipient of state benefits and claimed for “reasonable financial provision”. The first hearing went in her favour and she was awarded £50,000, but she appealed to increase the award. The charities had said the court should award a few thousand pounds to fund driving lessons to improve Mrs Ilott’s prospects of gaining employment.
In 2015 the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and she received approximately £164,000, mainly intended to fund the purchase of her housing association home. The award was also structured to enable her to continue claiming state benefits. Unhappy with the level of the award the Court of Appeal gave Mrs Ilott in 2015, the charities appealed to the Supreme Court.
The case has sparked wider debate about if and how court discretion should be used to leave in place, or alter, the reliance of an adult child claimant on state benefits in circumstances when a parent leaves a significant estate.
The Supreme Court appeal was heard in December and judgment is due shortly. The case is making legal history as the first claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 to go as far as the Supreme Court.
Healthy adult children who have been financially independent from parents are the most controversial category of inheritance claims dealt with by the courts. It is no surprise this case was the first to go on appeal to the Supreme Court.
We will watch this space to see what the Supreme Court decides in Mrs Ilott’s case.
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