Much has been written in the last week about the case of Melita Jackson’s Will. On the face of it there was nothing too contentious about the Will. Mrs. Jackson gave all her Estate to three animal charities the RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross.
But, Mrs Jackson’ Will became newsworthy not for the inclusion of charitable gifts but more for a certain exclusion. For you see, the Will made no provision for her only child Heather Illott.
The reason: the Daughter had eloped with her boyfriend (later husband) at the age of 17. And, despite a few attempted reconciliations Mother and Daughter never reconciled over the next 30 years.
Throughout this time, Mother never gave any financial aid or assistance to her Daughter.
The Daughter contested her Mother’s Will.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the Daughter that she should not have been excluded and awarded her £164,000 - a third of the value of the Estate.
A Last Will and Testament is Final. Right?
A Will is the method by which you “bequeath and devise” or give away or gift in plain English your assets after death. Other rules apply where you die Intestate i.e. without making a Will
Your Last Will and Testament are your last wishes in written form properly signed and witnessed. You instruct your Executors and/or Trustees of your Will to carry out your last wishes.
So, surely, the Mother’s Executors should have been able to carry out her wishes without interference form the Court?
What About Clear Written Intentions Left With A Will?
Let’s be clear: the Mother was adamant her daughter should receive nothing from her Estate.
The Mother left written reasons of her decision:
“I have only seen my daughter twice since. . . Because my daughter has made no effort to reconcile with me, I feel as though I have no moral or financial obligation to provide for her.”
In the same letter the Mother was also unequivocal in her instructions to her Executors.
“My daughter has not been financially reliant on me since she left home. . . If my daughter should bring a claim against my estate, I instruct my executors to defend such a claim, as I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate, bearing in mind the distress and worry she has caused me over the years. I have made it clear to my daughter during her lifetime that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die.”
How Did Daughter Overturn Her Mother’s Clear Wishes?
The answer lies in the 1975 Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act.
The 1975 Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act (The 1975 Act) enables widows or widowers to make a claim (within strict time limits) where the Will of a deceased partner does not make:
“…such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for a husband or wife to receive”.
The 1975 Act also permits children — or those who essentially have been treated as children of the deceased — to make similar claims against the deceased’s Estate.
The Daughter made her claim under the 1975 Act.
Why Did The Court of Appeal Ignore The Mother’s Wishes in Her Will?
The Court, using the criteria from the 1975 Act, held that the Mother in making no provision in her Will for her Daughter had not been reasonable in all the circumstances of the case
One of the judges, Lady Justice Arden, went so far as to conclude that the decision by the Mother to exclude her Daughter from the Will was “unreasonable, capricious and harsh”
And, critically perhaps, the Court found that the Mother had shown no particular care for animal welfare during her lifetime.
What Does This Mean for You When You Make or Alter Your Will?
So, will this change how you make your Will in the future where you wish to exclude a family member, for whatever reason, from your Will?
I think there are now two issues to bear in mind:
1.The previously held view that adult, able-bodied children (who have not been in receipt of any financial support from the deceased) would find it difficult to claim successfully under the 1975 Act will still be the default position.
It is important to bear in mind that Mrs Illott was the only child. Would the Court’s decision have been the same if say she were one of say three children and the other two were included in the Wlll?
2. The Court was at pains also to link, the lack of or little commitment, to animal welfare during her lifetime and the decision to favour animal welfare charities after her death.
So, (and, of course, this case may yet be appealed and find its way up to the Supreme Court) where your Last Will and Testament seeks to exclude anyone who could claim under the 1975 Act you must be able to demonstrate why and what connects you to those you wish to benefit from your Estate.
It goes without saying that it will pay (literally) to take professional advice from your Solicitor when you make or alter your Will and avoid your Estate being eaten up in a costly legal dispute.
But, for the vast majority, you can rest assured that when you make your Last Will and Testament your wishes will indeed be fulfilled.