A landmark decision determining the legitimacy of a mother’s will does not go far enough to clarify rules about providing for families, claims Sheffield’s Taylor&Emmet LLP.
The firm’s contentious probate expert, Alex Watkinson, welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Ilott v Mitson case, but felt more could be done to refine inheritance legislation.
He said: “The Supreme Court has provided useful guidance about the weight that should be attached to factors allowing people, such as spouses, cohabitants and children, to make a claim against an estate if they believe they do not receive ‘reasonable financial provision.’ However, there remains a wide degree of discretion, meaning a judge hearing a similar case could still come to a number of conclusions.”
Ilott v Mitson concerned the will of Melita Jackson, who died in 2004 leaving her entire estate of approximately £486,000 to three charities. Her estranged daughter, Heather Ilott, issued a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act, which was contested by the beneficiaries. After three appeals, each with a different result, the Supreme Court reinstated the original judge’s decision, awarding Ms Jackson £50,000 as ‘reasonable provision.’
Alex added: “Claims of this type depend so much on the facts and circumstances of each case, I can understand why the court stopped short of a more wide-ranging verdict. The onus is now on the Law Commission to revisit the legislation through parliament.
“A few principles did emerge, namely that the deceased’s wishes should be given weight, a legitimate claim requires a financial need and a moral obligation and that a judge’s decision should only be overturned in exceptional circumstances.”