Contentious Probate in the News!

The Court of Appeal has awarded an estranged daughter the substantial sum of £164,000 from her late mother’s estate after contesting a will, in a decision that has garnered considerable press attention. The Court of Appeal’s decision has confirmed the rights and ability of children cut out of their parents’ wills to bring a claim for reasonable financial provision.

The Claimant, Heather Ilott, eloped at the age of 17 with her boyfriend, Nicholas. Despite Heather and Nicholas later marrying and having five children together, Heather’s mother Melita never forgave her for eloping and when she died divided her estate between three animal rights charities with whom she had little previous connection. Melita left notes (or “Letter of Wishes”) with her will, explaining that she had deliberately cut her daughter out of her will and why.

Heather brought a Contentious Probate claim for reasonable financial provision against her mother’s estate. Relatives or dependents are entitled to bring such claims under the provisions of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

The case was initially heard in 2007 and Heather was awarded £50,000. Heather challenged the will and appealed on the grounds that the original award was too low. The value of her mother’s estate was nearly £500,000. The charities cross-appealed and the Court found against Heather and that she was entitled to nothing. Heather appealed again.

The latest hearing was the fourth time the case has been before the courts. The Court of Appeal found that Melita had acted in an ‘unreasonable, capricious and harsh’ way towards her daughter. They took into account Heather’s desperate financial circumstances – she lived on benefits in a council house and struggled to afford clothes and food for her family. The Court was told she had never taken a holiday. The Court also heard that Heather had tried to reconcile with her mother before she died but without success. Ultimately they decided Heather should be awarded £164,000.

A lot of press commentary has focused on concerns about people being unable to dispose of their property as they wish on death. However, the ruling confirms rights for relatives and dependents that have developed in legislation and case law for decades. The decision will give comfort and security to estranged adult children who face difficult financial circumstances and have been ostracised by their families for reasons that are often not their own fault.

Our contentious probate team have many years’ experience of working with clients in similar circumstances both to Miss Ilott and the Estate. Our substantial experience of acting on both sides of the fence in such cases allows us to advise and guide our clients through difficult circumstancess such as these. We endeavour to work sensitively with clients who have been cut out or not reasonably provided for under a family member’s will. Often a client will only be seeking what is deemed to be reasonable (i.e. what they are entitled to), and not the entire estate. As in Heather Ilott’s case, two thirds of the estate still passed to the animal rights charities chosen by her mother. We also have considerable experience of acting for Estates when defending such claims.

Claims are complex and require expert advice from a suitably experienced solicitor. It is crucial to take advice and at an early stage – strict and very short time limits apply in these cases. Any right to claim may be lost if a claim is not settled or court proceedings not issued before the deadline.

If you would like to discuss your case with our expert team then please contact us on 0161 928 9321.

John Gorner

John is head of our civil litigation department which includes specialist housing (landlord and tenant) and community care law teams. John acts predominantly for individuals battling against authority and his client demographic are children, the socially and economically disadvantaged and those with mental impairment. As such he often acts for the Official Solicitor. Email John at j.gorner@keoghssolicitors.co.uk or call us on: 0161 928 9321

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