Estranged daughter takes disinheritance to appeal

20 March 2012

An estranged daughter who eloped at 17 and was disinherited is challenging her mother's will in the Court of Appeal. The Court will be considering the difficult question of whether an able bodied adult should be entitled to expect any provision from the estate of a deceased parent. It's a case that challenges the long standing principle of English law which allows you to leave your money to whoever you like, however unreasonable or perverse your decision may be. When Melita Jackson made a will in 2002, leaving the whole of her estate to three charities, the Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, she wrote to her daughter Heather Illot, explaining that she was leaving her nothing, because she had eloped at the age of 17 and there had been little contact since. When Mrs Jackson died in 2004, Heather was aged 50 with five children, two of whom were still under 18. She had no earning capacity or prospects and no pension arrangements, and she applied to the Court for a payout from the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This Act allows certain people, for example widows, widowers and children, in certain circumstances to apply to the Courts for an order for "reasonable financial provision" if they can show that they do not have adequate provision through the will of the person who has died, or, if the person left no will, through the intestacy rules. It has long been assumed that an adult child applying under the Inheritance Act will have to show some kind of dependency, disability, or other special circumstances if they are to succeed in their claim, but when the case went to the County Court, the judge awarded £50,000 to Mrs Ilott from the estate. But the charities named in the will then appealed to the High Court, which over-ruled that decision. As a result, Heather Ilott is now appealing to the Court of Appeal. Said wills expert Danny Carter, Partner of Chelmsford based solicitors Gepp & Sons: "At the heart of this case is the long standing principal that you can leave your money to whoever you like under English law, however unfair it may seem to some of your nearest and dearest. "Even though the Inheritance Act opened a door for dependent children or spouses who could show a will had been unreasonable, that principal of freedom of choice is still a core value in deciding who should inherit. "If Mrs Ilott's award were allowed to stand, it would set a precedent that an able-bodied, adult child is entitled to provision under the Inheritance Act, and that could lead to a flood of wills being contested by disinherited children. Even though the sum involved in this case is relatively small, charities are going to be prepared to fight to prevent what would be a dangerous precedent for them, as they are very likely to be the beneficiaries where children are disinherited." • For additional information or comment please contact: Danny Carter of Gepp & Sons. This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.