Supreme Court to rule on animal charity will row today

The Supreme Court is set to hand down judgment today in a highly publicised case concerning challenges to wills on the grounds that they do not make reasonable provision.

On Wednesday, 15 March, the court will reveal its judgment in llott v Blue Cross and Ors – a case centring on a woman who had been excluded from her mother’s will.

Heather Ilott had been excluded from her mother Melita Jackson’s will after she left home with a boyfriend as a 17-year-old.

Instead, Jackson bequeathed her estate, worth around £500,000, to the RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross animal charities.

In the initial hearing, a High Court judgment awarded Ilott £50,000. Both parties appealed: Ilott claimed she had not been awarded enough while the charities said it was too much.

In 2015, the Court of Appeal said Ilott, who has five children and was on benefits and without a pension, was not given a reasonable provision in the will. She was awarded £143,000 – to buy the rented home she was living in – plus an extra £20,000 for additional income.

The charities’ appeal against that decision was heard at the Supreme Court in December 2016.

The Supreme Court is not empowered to undermine the overarching principle of testamentary freedom in favour of a more rigorous application of the 1975 act in favour of needy individuals. The case will not open the floodgates; It didn’t need to, the media have achieved that all by itself by drawing attention to the possibilities.

It has always been best practice that practitioners must understand the full extent of client’s circumstances and advise appropriately if instructions for wills exclude individuals who are provided with the right to claim under the 1975 act.
The Court of Appeal ruling clarified that people could still disinherit their children but they would have to provide a good reason for doing so and should be able to explain what connects them to the people or organisations that they have included in their wills instead.

Whatever the Supreme Court decides today, the judgment from this case will provide clarity to the Inheritance Act 1975 and likely set out the guidelines for when challenges can be brought to wills based on inadequate provision and set out the criteria which must be met in order to disinherit adult children.