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RSPCA takes estranged daughter of charity donor to Supreme Court

6th October 2016
RSPCA takes estranged daughter of charity donor to Supreme Court

In 2004, Mrs Jackson died leaving the majority of her estate to three charities: The Blue Cross, the RSPB and the RSPCA. Mrs Jacksons will left no provision for her only child, Ms Ilott. The mother and daughter had become estranged many years prior and had never reconciled. Ms Ilott made an application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the 1975 Act) for reasonable financial provision from her late mothers estate.

In 2007, the court found that Mrs Jackson had unreasonably excluded her daughter from any provision in her will despite her needy financial circumstances. Mrs Jacksons estate amounts to £486,000 and, save for a small gift to the BBC Benevolent fund, she left her entire estate to the three charities despite never having been associated with them during her lifetime. Ms Ilotts application was successful and DJ Million awarded her £50,000 but she appealed against the amount.

The Court of Appeal case was reported, Ilott v Mitson EWCA Civ 797, and hit the headlines when the Court of Appeal set aside DJ Millions award and substituted it with a new award of £143,000. This was to enable Ms Ilott to purchase her housing association home with reasonable costs of purchase and payments up to £20,000 (structured in a way that would allow Ms Ilott to preserve her state benefits). The charities appealed to the Supreme Court.

The issues to be considered by the Supreme Court have been published and are as follows:

  1. Whether the Court of Appeal was wrong to set aside the award made at first instance on the Respondents claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.
  2. Whether, in deciding to re-exercise the courts discretion to make an award under the 1975 Act, the Court of Appeal erred in taking account of the factual position as the date of the appeal rather than the date of the original hearing.
  3. Whether the Court of Appeal erred in its approach to the maintenance standard under the 1975 Act.
  4. Whether the Court of Appeal erred in its application of the balancing exercise required under the 1975 Act.

At the time of the Court of Appeal hearing, there was a lot of commentary about how the case made it easier for adult children, excluded from their parents will, to challenge their parents will if they have not been left reasonable provision. The case also emphasised the extent to which the applicants income, estrangement and expectation impacted on how the judge reasoned their decision. At first instance, the trial judge cited Ms Ilotts lack of expectation as a reason to limit her award. However, the Court of Appeal said that the fact that Ms Illot had not expected to receive anything in her mothers will did not carry much weight, given the charities had no expectation either.

The Supreme Court will hear the case in December. If the appeal is successful, it is likely to make applications under the 1975 Act harder.

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