Update: Is your will your will?

15Jun2017

Ilott v Mitson [2017] UKSC 17 – update

Background

This case was previously featured in a post entitled “Is your will your will?“.

The case concerned the Will left by a Mrs. Jackson after her death in June 2004. Mrs. Jackson was survived by her only child, the Plaintiff Mrs. Ilott, from whom she had been estranged for 26 years. Mrs. Jackson left the entirety of her estate worth GBP486,000 to be split between 3 animal charities. Mrs. Ilott was specifically and intentionally excluded, as set out in a letter written by Mrs. Jackson to be read in the event that her Will was contested by her daughter.

Following her appeals to the Court of Appeal and High Court, Mrs. Ilott was awarded several sums ranging from GBP50,000 to GBP164,000. Eventually, the Court of Appeal decided that Mrs. Ilott should receive only GBP50,000 from Mrs. Jackson’s estate. Mrs. Ilott then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Final Decision

The Supreme Court handed down its decision in March 2017 (Ilott v Mitson [2017] UKSC 17), some 10 years after the matter was first heard and decided in 2007. The Court unanimously ruled to overturn the Court of Appeal’s decision and reinstated the original decision of District Judge Millon to award Mrs. Ilott GBP50,000.

It is clear from this judgment that the range of possible outcomes of such cases is incredibly broad, which creates challenges in advising on the merits of any given application. The question the Court must consider is whether in the circumstances the will’s provisions are reasonable or unreasonable. The question of reasonableness relates to whether the financial provision is reasonable, not whether the deceased acted unreasonably.

Lady Hale gave her own judgment in support of the main judgment in which she lamented the current state of the law in respect of the lack of guidance it offers regarding whether an adult child deserves reasonable maintenance or not and the factors to be considered in deciding this.

When considering what maintenance is, the main judgment, given by Lord Hughes, broadly considers maintenance to be the provision of income rather than capital. However, what can be considered to be maintenance can be broadly interpreted. For example, it could be paid by way of a lump sum, ongoing income payments or the payment of debts to enable one to carry on a profit-making business (per Browne-Wilkinson J in In re Dennis, deceased [1981] 2 All ER 140 at 145-146 as cited by Lord Hughes in the main judgment at 14).

The determination of the provision to be awarded, if any, will take into account the needs of the applicant. Needs will not however determine the sum of the award, as factors such as the size of the estate and competing claims will impact whether the needs claimed can in fact be met by the estate. Mrs. Ilott’s reliance on needs in her argument was not enough to convince the Supreme Court that the Court of Appeal’s decision should stand. It was held that District Judge Millon was entitled to reach the decision that he did – considering at paragraph 35 of the main judgment both that “there was a failure of reasonable financial provision, but that what reasonable provision would be was coloured by the nature of the relationship between mother and daughter.

The effect of the Supreme Court decision is that the scope of the court’s ability to intervene against a testator’s wishes where an adult child contests the distribution of the estate is again limited in light of the UK’s somewhat non-specific legislation in this area.

Joanne Brown

The above is not intended to be relied on as legal advice and specific legal advice should be sought at all times in relation to the above.

If you would like to discuss any of the matters discussed in this brief article, please contact:

Joanne Brown
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Disclaimer: This publication is general in nature and is not intended to constitute legal advice. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.