16 March, 2017
Yesterday, the UK Supreme Court handed down the hotly-anticipated judgment in Ilot v Mitson*and has re-affirmed the principle of 'testamentary freedom'. Testamentary Freedom is a long-standing principle in English Law, meaning that a person has the freedom to choose who they wish to benefit when they die (ie. under their Will). There is no legal obligation to provide for certain family members.
In Ilot v Mitson, Mrs Mitson had been cut out of her mother's Will when she died in 2004. They had been estranged for over 25 years, having had no contact since Mrs Mitson left home at the age of 17. Her mother made a Will leaving the majority of her £500,000 estate to animal charities and made it very clear to the Solicitor who prepared her Will that she did not want her estranged daughter to benefit in any way from her estate.
Mrs Mitson was receiving state benefits and was not financially comfortable, so brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 and argued that her mother's Will ought to have made reasonable financial provision for her. She was originally awarded £50,000 by the courts. She appealed and was awarded £140,000 to buy her Housing Association home, plus a lump sum of £20,000 paid in a way which would not impact on her state benefits.
The charities then brought a further appeal to the Supreme Court and were successful. The Supreme Court reduced Mrs Mitson's entitlement to the original £50,000, with the remainder of the estate going to the charities.
Following yesterday's judgment, the Solicitor acting for the charities commented "It reaffirms in a unanimous sense from the highest court in the land that principle that we're all free to choose who will benefit when we die."**
The judgment has clarified the position for those involved in the preparation of Wills, as well as those dealing with disputed estate.
If you would like any further advice about making a Will or dealing with a deceased's estate please contact Lorraine Wilson in our Wills, Probate, Tax and Trusts department or alternatively call Freephone 0800 975 2643 or send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.
* Ilott (Respondent) v The Blue Cross and others (Appellants)  UKSC 17 On appeal from  EWCA Civ 797
** James Aspden, quoted from BBC news "Daughter cut out of Will loses animal charities legal fight" (15 March 2017).