The Court of Appeal has made an award of £143,000 to an estranged daughter who made a claim against her mother’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Heather Ilott was the only child of Melita Jackson, who died in June 2004 leaving an estate worth around £486,000. Mrs Ilott had been estranged from her mother for around 26 years, after she left the family home aged 17. The court found that Mrs Jackson had behaved harshly towards Mrs Ilott, although both were responsible for the ongoing failure between them to reconcile.
Mrs Jackson’s last will left her estate to be divided between various charities, despite the court finding that she had no connection with them during her lifetime. Mrs Ilott made a claim against Mrs Jackson’s estate for reasonable financial provision in accordance with the I(PFD)A 1975. As a child of the deceased, Mrs Ilott’s claim was limited to such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances for her to receive for her maintenance.
Following various previous decisions and appeals, the Court of Appeal decided that Mrs Jackson’s will failed to make reasonable financial provision for Mrs Ilott and, in this latest decision, awarded Mrs Ilott £143,000 from the estate. The Court of Appeal confirmed that the fact that Mrs Ilott was managing to live within limited existing means (relying on state benefits) did not necessarily mean that the size of the award which needed to be made to provide her with reasonable maintenance should be similarly limited.
On the other hand, the only parties opposing the claim were charities, which had demonstrated no financial needs or expectations and anything they received was considered by the court to be a windfall. The Court of Appeal also commented that Mrs Ilott’s knowledge that her mother did not intend to leave anything to her on her death was of little consequence, because equally the charities would have had no real expectation that they would benefit from the estate.
This decision is a helpful authority regarding the way in which the court will assess claims by adult children seeking to overturn the testamentary wishes of their parent. Adult children have always been permitted to make a claim under the I(PFD)A 1975, but the circumstances in which such claims were likely to be successful were considered to be limited, particularly where the adult child had independent financial means.
Having said that, the court will assess every claim made under the I(PFD)A 1975 on its own particular facts. In the case of Mrs Ilott, the only parties opposing her claim were charities with which Mrs Jackson had no connection during her lifetime. Mrs Jackson’s moral obligation to provide for her daughter was therefore a weighty factor for the court to consider because there were no other competing moral obligations or expectations from other family members.