A woman whose mother left her entire estate to charity has won her appeal for a payment from the estate, sufficient to meet her need for reasonable maintenance.

Melita Jackson died in July 2004 at the age of 70. She left a net estate of some £480,000, most of which was bequeathed to the Blue Cross Animal Welfare Society, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. There was no evidence that the deceased had any connection with the charities or that, during her lifetime, she had any particular love of animals.

The deceased’s will made no provision for her only child, a daughter now aged 50, who was estranged from her mother at the time of her death. The daughter, Heather Ilott, is married with five children and lives on a low income and benefits. Mrs Jackson was a widow whose husband, Mrs Ilott’s father, died in an industrial accident in 1960 when Mrs Jackson was pregnant with her daughter. Mrs Jackson formed a lasting relationship with another man, with whom she lived until his death in 1996.

When Mrs Ilott was 17, she met a man of whom her mother disapproved. She left the home she shared with her mother and stepfather to live with her boyfriend and his family and subsequently married him. Despite various attempts at a reconciliation, Mrs Jackson never forgave her daughter for her decision to leave home and so made no provision for her in her will.
When Mrs Ilott made an application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, she was awarded a £50,000 payment from her mother’s estate by a district judge. The Act allows a spouse, child or dependant (among others) to claim against a deceased person’s estate if their need for ‘reasonable financial provision’ has not been met.

Considering the £50,000 award insufficient for her needs, Mrs Ilott appealed to the High Court, which not only dismissed her appeal but also upheld a cross-appeal by the charities named in Mrs Jackson’s will that the original award of £50,000 should be set aside, leaving Mrs Ilott with nothing. She appealed again.

The Court of Appeal held that the High Court was wrong to reverse the original award and that the discretion of the district judge to make the award had been properly exercised. The Court directed that Mrs Ilott’s appeal against the amount of the award be reheard by a different judge, but urged the parties to come to a settlement in order to avoid the expense of a further trial.

“Family disputes can often lead to dependants being written out of a will,” says Cathy Owen. “However, if your will fails to make adequate provision for a dependant, it may be subject to legal challenge. To ensure your estate is distributed as you wish, contact us.”