Latest thinking on Inheritance issues and estranged children

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If you are thinking of making a Will leaving all your money to charity and none to an estranged child, or are a child who is not a beneficiary of your parents’ Wills, a ruling made by the Supreme Court this week will probably be of interest.

The case, Ilott v The Blue Cross & others, concerns an estranged adult daughter who was not included in her mother’s Will; her estate was instead left to a group of charities.

The daughter challenged the Will and was initially awarded £50,000 under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. She felt that this was too low as it was sufficient to deprive her of her means-tested benefits but not enough to enable her to purchase her house. She therefore appealed the award and the Court of Appeal eventually awarded her £143,000 to buy the property in which she was living and an option to receive a further £20,000. The charities, who were set to receive much less as a result, appealed this decision. The Supreme Court has allowed the charities’ appeal and the daughter is now set to receive the £50,000 originally awarded to her.

The case may raise more questions than it answers about people’s right to disinherit their children and to do exactly as they wish with their assets. However, it does leave us with some important pointers. The Court indicated that adult children challenging a Will should, if awarded anything at all, be limited to ‘maintenance’ rather than a legacy and that ‘maintenance’ doesn’t mean providing everything that the applicant might reasonably need. Every case should be treated individually on its merits by the judge and factors such as the relationship between the parent and child can be taken into account.

Alan Brown, who specialises in estate planning, Wills and Trusts at Ashtons Legal, comments: “This case deals with a very specific circumstance but there are wider implications for anyone who is considering making a Will which might be the subject of a challenge under the 1975 Act. The Act gives very limited rights to certain close family members and dependants to seek provision if the Will does not provide for them. This judgment confirms that the rights are indeed very limited.

“The bigger prize for the child would have been to have the Will declared invalid in its entirety. To do this she would have needed to establish that the Will did not comply with the statutory requirements, was made under duress, or that her mother was not mentally capable at the time she made her Will. If this could have been proven, the whole estate may have passed to the daughter under the intestacy provisions. This was not an issue in the current case, but underlines the importance of having your Will properly drawn up by a specialist lawyer, if you wish it to be capable of standing up to challenge. Not doing so could undo the benefit of everything you are hoping to achieve.”

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