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After a month since the Supreme Court ruling on the case of Ilott v Mitson, we reflect on the case and its significance.

Ilott Vs Mitson – The Case

The Blue Cross, RSPB and the RSPCA have won a Supreme Court case to reduce the amount of inheritance awarded to Heather Ilott after she was cut out of her Mother’s will.

Heather Ilott, an only child, was cut out of her mother Melita Jackson’s will after being rejected at 17 years old when she left home to live with her boyfriend in 1978, they are still married to this day.

Melita Jackson intentionally left daughter Heather out of her will and instructed her executors to fight any appeal made by heather to benefit from her £500,000 estate.

Heather and Melita never reconciled their relationship, and when Melita passed away in 2004, she didn’t leave a penny to her daughter.

Heather Ilott is a mother-of-five living primarily off state benefits. She appealed the will and was awarded £50,000 by a district judge in 2007. Appeal judges then subsequently tripled this sum to £160,000 to allow Heather to purchase her Housing Association Property.

The court felt that with the original sum awarded to Mrs Ilott, she would continue to face a life of poverty due to her benefits reliant income.

The court of appeal ruled the district judge had made “identifiable errors of principle”.

Ruling overturned

Following the decision, the three animal charities to whom the money was initially left to in Melita’s will, successfully made an appeal to the supreme court (the highest court in the UK) to overturn the decision and have the amount reduced back to the original sum of £50,000.

The charities made the appeal based on principle due to the precedent it could set for future cases. James Aspden, the solicitor acting on behalf of the charities said the ruling “reaffirms in a unanimous sense from the highest court in the land that principle that we’re all free to choose who will benefit when we die”.

Significance going forward

The outcome is a significant decision in inheritance disputes under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 and one that has been avidly followed since the original decision in 2007.

Whilst it demonstrates that the Court will allow, depending on the facts of each case, awards to be made to independent adult children where that individual has not been provided for by the deceased, what the Supreme Court did emphasise was the importance of limiting awards to adult children to ‘maintenance’ and that in this case the estrangement between Heather and her mother carried weight.

As is found in practice, decisions made in such disputes is not clear cut and there is no specific formula, however the decision in this case will be of importance going forward.

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