Ilott v Mitson - Estranged Daughter Wins Inheritance Battle

Author: Zara Munday

English law has historically provided that you should (with some exceptions) be able to leave your estate to whomever you wish. The exception lies in the ability for certain disappointed family members to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family Dependants) Act 1975 for ‘reasonable provision’. It is usually very difficult to prove that you have not been left a ‘reasonable provision’ by the deceased.

However, the recent case of Ilott v Mitson has seen the Court of Appeal allowing a woman’s claim for reasonable provision from her mother’s estate despite the fact that she was not dependent on her mother.

Melita Jackson died in 2004 aged 70. In her Will she left nearly all the proceeds of her estate which amounted to just under £500,000 to a number of animal charities with no provision for her estranged daughter, Heather Ilott. She also left a “letter of wishes” clearly setting out the reason for her decision to exclude her daughter as a beneficiary and instructing her executors to defend any claim on the estate brought by Heather, whom she had not seen for over 25 years.

Mrs Ilott, who had five children and was living on benefits, contested the will under the 1975 Act on the basis that under the circumstances ‘reasonable provision’ had not been made for her. The charities defended it but the challenge was allowed and Mrs Ilott was awarded the sum of £50,000.

Mrs Ilott was dissatisfied and appealed the amount she was awarded and the charities cross-appealed. The charities were successful and the original decision was over-turned leaving Mrs Ilott with nothing.

However, Mrs Ilott subsequently appealed that decision and won.

The Court of Appeal handed down their decision last month and found that Mrs Ilott was entitled to a third of her mother’s estate, amounting to £164,000, enough to purchase the local authority property she and her family occupied. It was held unreasonable to completely exclude a financially unstable, although independent and estranged daughter, from her Will. The Judges deemed Mrs Ilott’s decision to disinherit her daughter to be spiteful and they commented on the fact that the charities she had bequeathed were chosen seemingly at random.

In light of this decision, it is extremely important that you ensure your Will is carefully worded and takes such issues into account. It is important you discuss your situation with a qualified Solicitor who can advise you of the steps that can be taken to ensure that your final wishes will be upheld.

It is vital that consideration is taken regarding the delicate balance of your moral obligations and your own personal wishes. Such considerations may include the careful drafting of a supporting document outlining your reasons for the way in which you have gifted your estate.

If you would like further advice on this matter or wish to make a Will, please contact Zara Munday, tel: 01306 502240, or by email