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Potential for an increase in Inheritance disputes after recent ruling?

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The Court of Appeal has recently upheld the appeal of an adult daughter and allowed her claim for reasonable financial provision from her estranged mother’s estate even though her mother expressly disinherited her. This could lead to an increase in inheritance disputes.

Traditionally it has always been the case that when a person dies they may leave their estate as they so wish. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 provides a statutory safeguard and allows the Courts to interfere only in relation to claims by certain individuals (i.e. the deceased’s spouse or civil partner; former spouse or civil partner; a cohabitee living with the deceased for two years immediately before their death; children including step children and adopted children; or someone who was financially dependent on the deceased before their death) and only where there are special circumstances to do so. In relation to children the Act states that reasonable financial provision means “such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the applicant to receive for his maintenance”.

Mrs Ilott and her mother had been estranged for a number of years and before she died Mrs Ilott’s mother made a will leaving the majority of her estate, worth £486,000, to three separate charities. Mrs Ilott’s mother even went so far as to leave a signed letter of wishes to her executors stating that she had made a conscious decision to disinherit her daughter and instructing them to defend any claim made by Mrs Ilott.

Mrs Ilott contested the will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 arguing that it did not leave her reasonable financial provision. The charities defended the appeal on the basis that the will should not be interfered with citing that not only had the two had a long period of estrangement but that Mrs Ilott did not suffer from any disability which affected her income and that she had not been financially dependent on her mother. Originally the District Judge awarded Mrs Ilott £50,000 but she was dissatisfied and appealed. At the appeal hearing Mrs Illot's appeal was dismissed leaving her with nothing but Mrs Ilott appealed again and somewhat surprisingly, this has now been upheld.

Whilst the exact share Mrs Ilott will receive was not specified and the Court specifically urged the parties to consider carefully whether in fact a further hearing was in anyone’s interests, it is clear that this decision could well pave the way for a number of similar claims to be made.

Clarion’s Contentious Probate team are specialists dealing with disputed probate, wills and trusts. We are litigators who work closely with our highly regarded Private Client team which deals with all non-contentious aspects of tax and trust planning, wealth and estate management, and will drafting. Our expertise is called upon to assist whenever a dispute arises in this area.

If you would like to talk to one of the team please contact Lynsey Harrison on 0113 336 3388 or by email on Lynsey.harrison@clarionsolicitors.com 

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