Wills and Charities

For those involvedLawyers should no longer advise their clients that, “An Englishman still remains at liberty to dispose of his own property in whatever way he pleases” (Mr Justice Oliver in the case of Re Coventry, 1980). Large charities, and especially those whose main aim is the welfare of animals, have had a rough time in the Courts in recent years, with parents falling out with their offspring for whatever reason, must think more carefully before they cut them out in favour of the likes of the RSPCA, Blue Cross or one of the other numerous animal charities.

Mrs Melita Jackson had an estate worth approximately £500,000. Sadly, she had fallen out with her only child Heather in the 1970s, who ran away with her teenage boyfriend, Nicholas Ilott. Mr and Mrs Ilott were the parents of five children and just managed to make ends meet, receiving very low wages. Heather Ilott made a claim against her mother’s estate under the provisions of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Section 2 gives the son or daughter of the deceased the right to apply for an Order if the Will does not make “reasonable financial provision” for the son or daughter who has been cut out. 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 (or her) maintenance”.

Lady Justice Arden in the Court of Appeal judgment, explains why Mrs Jackson’s Will could not be regarded as having made reasonable financial provision for Heather, even though she and her husband were able to get by on their very low incomes. The judgment shows how flexible and imaginative the Courts are likely to be, to assist the children who have, in effect, been snubbed by their parents’ Wills. Heather ended up receiving approximately £163,000 of Mrs Jackson’s estate with the costs of the litigation being borne by the charities who had fought so hard to defend the claim.

The judgment also demonstrates that even though an Englishman enjoys greater freedom to dispose of a substantial estate than, say, a Scotsman, he cannot ignore the financial maintenance needs of his son or daughter. This is especially so if the deceased did not have any particular connection with the charities in the Will. The 1975 Act is certainly not new law but is likely to be the basis of many more disputed Will cases in the future.

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