Can you still make the Will you want?

A landmark Court of Appeal ruling yesterday has serious implications on how Wills should be drawn up and the freedom to dispose of your assets as you wish.

The Court of Appeal awarded Heather Ilott £164,000.00 from her mother’s estate despite the clear wishes of her mother being contained within her Will together with reasons for her exclusion within a side letter.

Melita Jackson died in 2004 with an estate of nearly £500,000.00 which she left between three animal charities. Mrs Jackson had excluded her only daughter, as she had never forgiven her for eloping with her boyfriend at the age of 17. Despite a few attempts mother and daughter failed to reconcile prior to Mrs Jackson’s death.

After an eight year court battle, Mrs Ilott was granted a third of the estate on the grounds that her mother did not leave “reasonable provision” for her in the will. The Court of Appeal ruled that Mrs Ilott would otherwise face a life of poverty because she was on benefits and could not afford to buy clothes for her children.

Mrs Jackson had little connection to the charities concerned and this seems to have played a role in the decision of the Court in its award to Mrs Ilott.

It would appear that this decision is likely to make it easier for adult children, who are disinherited by their parents, to challenge their wills and gain a proportion of their estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. The Act enables certain people, such as spouses and children, the opportunity to make a claim against an estate if it does not make “reasonable financial provision” for them.

The freedom of testamentary disposition i.e. to leave your assets to whom you choose, seems to have been eroded yet further by this decision. It is also clear that a carefully drafted side letter needs to set out not only why a testator is leaving out a child but also why they have chosen a specific individual or charity as a beneficiary.

If you require help in drawing up your will please contact Lindsey Bohanna at lindsey.bohanna@coleyandtilley.com or on 0121 643 5531