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(Provision for Family and Dependants) Act, 1975 Supreme Court decision

There has been a lot of press coverage about the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Ilott v The Blue Cross & others, handed down to conclude a long running claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (‘the Act’)  following a claim by Mrs. Heather Ilott against her late mother’ Estate (Mrs Jackson), this case is being heralded as a victory for common sense by the popular press.       

Here we unpick three key points from the judgement:

  1. The deceased’s  last Will  clearly expressed that she wanted her estate to be left to three charities- she had deliberately and consciously disinherited her daughter, Mrs Ilott; because she did not approve of her  lifestyle choice and the parties had been estranged for many years. Mrs Ilott acknowledged  her mother had made her intentions known to her before her death. The case had been previously considered by the High Court who awarded Mrs Ilott £50,000 and, on appeal, the Court of Appeal awarded her approximately  £163,000 from the deceased’s estate.  That decision did not sit comfortably alongside the idea of testamentary freedom (that a person is free to do as they wish with their estate on their death). On the face of it the Supreme Court decision to overturn the judgement delivered by the Court of Appeal seems like a victory for testamentary freedom; but  in doing so they reinstated the original High Court judgement.
  2. The Justices went on to consider the importance of the ‘S.3’  factors of the Act,  which must be considered when bringing a claim. The Court felt  the Court of Appeal had placed too much emphasis on Mrs Ilott’s modest financial circumstances which had not been weighed equally against the long period of estrangement (some 26 years) and the size of the estate (approximately £450,000). The Court of Appeal had awarded Mrs Ilott roughly 35% of the total estate, as opposed to the initial judgement which was around 10%. The Court noted, that awards under the Act should not be ‘awards for good behaviour on the part of the Claimant or penalties for bad on the part of the deceased’.
  3. Finally, the Court dealt with the issue of reasonable financial provision for “maintenance”.  The Act does not provide a definition of maintenance  and the Court did not provide clear guidance in this regard.  However, it was made clear that maintenance did not extend to any and every thing the claimant desires, but did agree that in respect of housing, granting a life interest would be more usual than the capital sum awarded by the Court of Appeal.

 On the face of it, the judgement is the victory the popular press has been reporting; and, of the previous judgments handed down, the one now in place, being approval of the original judgement,  seems most appropriate.  The judgement should also prevent some of the potential speculative applications practitioners were expecting to see from disappointed adult children following the Court of Appeal’s decision.

However, it should not be forgotten that this case restates the original decision, in which the able-bodied fifty-something Mrs Ilott, who has lived independently since  she was 17 years of age and estranged from her mother for almost 26 years, has been awarded £50,000 against her mother’s express and clear wishes.