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Supreme Court upholds principle of Testamentary Freedom

In a landmark legal ruling this week, the Supreme Court has reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal in a case which has attracted a great deal of attention – both from the media and the legal world – for a number of years.

In 2004 Melta Jackson died, leaving her estate to the RSPCA, RSPB and the Blue Cross.  Her estranged daughter, Heather Illot, was left out of her Will.  Heather made a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 to the effect that she should have had ‘reasonable provision’ made for her.  Heather and her mother were estranged following Heather moving away from the family home a a young age, and in essence making life choices of which her mother did not approve.  Heather was not in a good financial position.

At the first hearing, the District Judge ordered that she receive £50,000 from her mother’s estate (which was worth over £480,000).  Heather appealed, saying this was not enough; the claim was struck out entirely and then reinstated.

The Court of Appeal awarded her £143,000 so that she could buy her home and have a small sum left over.  This time, the charities appealed.

The Supreme Court Decision

The award was reduced to £50,000 as at the first hearing.

The solicitor acting for the charities in the appeal said ‘the Supreme Court confirmed that our choice of beneficiaries should be respected, and that judges should not rewrite our wills simply because they may think we should have acted differently’.

The case is important as it gives weight to the intention of the person making a Will, and perhaps makes it a little harder for adult children to challenge a parent’s Will without showing a real need for provision to be made.  This will give peace of mind to people writing Wills that their wishes will be followed.

The full judgement of the Supreme Court is available here.

For more information contact Damian Lines TEP, head of our Wills, Trusts and Probate team on 01633 867000.

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