Ilott v Mitson: the final result
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Ilott v Mitson has held that testamentary freedom is a key factor to be considered when assessing claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (“the Inheritance Act”).
By way of a brief summary of the case, Mrs Jackson died in 2004, leaving most of her £486,000 estate to Blue Cross, RSPB and RSPCA (“the charity beneficiaries”). She left no provision to her daughter, Mrs Ilott, whom she had had almost no contact with for 26 years. Mrs Ilott made a claim under the Inheritance Act and in 2007 District Judge Million awarded Mrs Ilott £50,000 from the estate for her maintenance. Both Mrs Ilott and the charity beneficiaries appealed this award. The 2007 award was upheld until 2015, when the Court of Appeal ruled that Mrs Ilott’s award should increase to £163,000. The charity beneficiaries appealed this award, with the Supreme Court unanimously allowing the charities’ appeal. The Supreme Court’s judgment reversed the Court of Appeal’s award and restored the award of £50,000 made by the original trial judge in 2007.
The crux of the Supreme Court’s judgment was that the District Judge in 2007 was entitled to take a broad brush approach, taking into account all the relevant factors of the Inheritance Act in his assessment of the claim. The Supreme Court held that an appeal court should not interfere with a trial judge’s decision simply on the basis that they would have made a different value judgment.
The Supreme Court also highlighted that limiting a child’s claim under the Inheritance Act to “maintenance” represents a deliberate choice by Parliament and supports the position that, subject to some exceptions, English law supports the principle that a person can leave their estate as they wish. In this case, the charities were the chosen beneficiaries of the deceased and they did not have to justify a claim on the basis of need, as an applicant (other than a spouse or civil partner) under the Inheritance Act would have to. In this case, the estrangement between the deceased and her daughter was also a relevant factor for the Court to take into account.
However, whilst these points have added some clarification, the Supreme Court confirmed that the present state of the law on Inheritance Act claims is unsatisfactory. What is clear from the Supreme Court’s judgment though is that the appeal courts should be slow to interfere with the decision of a trial judge, that a trial judge is best placed to make a value judgment (having had the opportunity to hear all of the facts of the case) and that the wishes of the deceased should be carefully considered. However, this remains a complex area of law and one in which the factors of each case will have to be carefully considered.
If you have any questions about the contents of this blog, or queries relating Inheritance Act claims, please feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01202 057768