Lauren Day
Partner, Solicitor & Head of Dispute Resolution
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Date Published:15 Mar 2017 Last Updated:23 Jul 2021

Ilott v Mitson – The Final Judgment

Dispute Resolution

The Supreme Court will today hand down judgment in what has been the most widely publicised contentious probate case of modern times. The judgment will be the first ever given by the Supreme Court Justices in a case concerning a claim brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

It has been a long road to this point, the first instance decision given by District Judge Millon was handed down in 2007. After nine years and two Court of Appeal decisions the matter was heard by the highest court in England and Wales in December 2016.

The Key Issues

  • What is ‘reasonable financial provision for maintenance’? This is the critical question in all claims brought by a qualifying claimant that is not a spouse. The charities argued that the award of a house (which was the award provided by the Court of Appeal decision) far exceed this standard.
  • The award given to Mrs Ilott in the County Court judgment was £50,000. This sum was arrived at as a lump sum figure to supplement Mrs Ilott’s income from state benefits. There was a reduction in this sum to reflect the fact that Mrs Ilott and her mother had been almost entirely estranged for 27 years. The contentious issue here is that an award of this sum had the effect of disentitling Mrs Ilott from most of her state benefits. The charities contend that this should not defeat the award. Mrs Ilott argues that the higher award of £143,000 granted by the Court of Appeal was correct as it allowed her to purchase her home thus dampening the effect of her loss of state benefits.
  • Should a charity’s needs be considered in this type of claim? Historically the courts have treated charities as if they had no needs. Whilst Penelope Reed QC for the charities did not submit a case as to the charities’ needs, it will be interesting to see if the Justices provide any comment on this issue.
  • Is it relevant that Mrs Jackson (the deceased) had no connection with the charities?

As I discussed in my previous article , the reason this case has received national news coverage is due to the potential effect the decision will have on the fundamental principle that a person should be free to leave their assets to whomever they choose. Many take the view that a daughter that had no relationship with her mother for more than 27 years and who admitted having no expectation to inherit should not be able to succeed in a claim after her mother’s death to be awarded a substantial percentage of her mother’s estate.

It is without doubt the case that the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act limits testamentary freedom but what we will discover today is to what extent.

To watch the judgement live, click here