Ilott v Mitson: Judgement provides “welcome reassurance”

The Ilott v Mitson judgment could provide greater reassurance to donors in knowing that their Wills are less likely to be challenged.

Involving a contested estate, yesterday’s (15/03/17) Supreme Court decision had been long-awaited, with the ruling set to influence the outcome of future challenges to Wills.

The deceased has left her estate to numerous charities, which her estranged daughter appealed under the Inheritance Act 1975. In a unanimous decision from the Supreme Court, it was ruled that the charities appeal should be allowed; a judgement which commentators have described as bringing clarity to the sector.

Chris Millward, Chief Executive of the Institute of Legacy Management stated: “We are pleased by the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Ilott v Mitson which provides welcome reassurance – save in specific and limited circumstances – that donors are free to benefit whom they wish in their will and that those final wishes will be respected.

“This ruling has brought clarity after years of confusion and concern for many in the charity and legal sectors.

“Donors can now be more confident that having an up-to-date and professionally written will means their final wishes will be honoured, and our members can continue to fulfil these wishes and ensure every charitable legacy gift achieves its greatest potential.”

Expert Will disputes lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, Paula Myers, also commented on the greater certainty that the ruling is likely to bring to the sector, stating: “this judgment could potentially make it more difficult for adult children to challenge their parent’s Wills under the Inheritance Act and it may give people executing a Will greater strength to resist any challenges. It may also give people the peace of mind for people writing a Will that their wishes will be followed, and children can still be disinherited unless certain criteria are met by the challenging party.”

Also expressing a feeling of reassurance in the wake of the decision was Clive Ponder. The Director at Countrywide Tax & Corporation stated: “The judgement is welcome and common sense has in part prevailed in the fact that the increase given to the Mrs Ilott by the court of appeal has been overturned”

He also went on to consider, however, the daughter’s original grant from the district judge. In the initial challenge to the Will she had been awarded £50,000; an amount which Ponder considered might come as a surprise to some.

“We need to remember most of our clients would find the original district judgement surprising in giving £50,000 to an adult daughter who had no contact with Mom at all. Our clients in the main understand an award to a minor child but not an adult child where the relationship between parent and sibling has broken down.”

He also acknowledged the importance of cases being taken on an individual basis, with all factors influencing the potential award.

“My feeling is that probably the most pleasing part of the judgement is that the factors in making an award under the 1975 act will be looked at and some weighting applied to the factors that need to be considered.”

However, whether the case by case approach provides enough certainty has itself also been questioned.  Although the ruling has provided more clarity to an extent, the “unsatisfactory state of the current law” was highlighted in the judgement by Lady Hale. She mentioned that there is currently no guidance on the factors to be taken into account when deciding whether an adult child is deserving of maintenance.

Myers reiterated this viewpoint, stating: “As Lady Hale pointed out, there is still a need for further guidance or even legislation around the circumstances in which adult children might be able to bring a claim for a more reasonable maintenance which is currently decided on a case by case basis.”

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