The Supreme Court has handed down its Judgment in Ilott v. The Blue Cross & others, the first case under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 to reach the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest Court.
The Supreme Court has unanimously allowed the charities’ appeal.
The Claimant, Mrs Ilott, was an estranged adult daughter whose mother disinherited her in favour of charities. At first instance, the Claimant received an award of 50,000 under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Mrs Illott appealed on the basis that the award was too low and deprived her of her means-tested benefits. The Court of Appeal awarded Mrs Ilott 143,000 to buy the house in which she lived (together with an option to receive a further 20,000). The award was designed to avoid affecting Mrs Ilott’s benefit entitlement. The charities appealed against the decision, permission was granted and on 15th March 2017 the Supreme Court handed down its decision, allowing the charities appeal and reinstating the award of 50,000 made by the District Judge at trial.
The Supreme Court has found that the Court of Appeal had no proper basis for interfering with the District Judge’s findings and the District Judge had been right to take a ‘broad brush approach’ on the basis the Act invites the Court to do so in view of the very variable personal and family circumstances that may arise.
The Supreme Court has emphasised the importance of limiting awards to adult children to ‘maintenance’. The Judgment makes it clear that an award should not be based on everything that it is desirable for the Claimant to have but that it is not limited to subsistence level either. The level of maintenance is clearly flexible and although maintenance is not capital it may include housing and income maybe provided in a lump sum also. Any award to a Claimant will fall to be assessed on the facts of each case.
The Supreme Court has reiterated the view that the purpose of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 is not to provide legacies to claimants and that this had been a deliberate legislative choice. What is required is a single assessment by the Judge whose findings may be influenced by any of the factors set out in section 3 of the Act, including estrangement. In the present case, the circumstance of the relationship between Mrs Ilott and her deceased mother carried weight, as did her intention that is the clear intention that the charities should receive legacies.
If you are a beneficiary facing a challenge to a will or a claim under the Inheritance Act and wish to protect your interest in the estate we may also be able to assist you. If you are an executor or personal representative we are also able to guide you through the legal process in order that you comply with all procedural requirements.
In the first instance, please contact Partner, Graeme Wallington.