Freedom to choose who benefits from your estate upheld by Supreme Court

Our clients will be aware of the case of Ilott v The Blue Cross, the RSB and RSPCA. This was a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The case concerned Melita Jackson’s decision to leave her £486,000 estate to the three charities and nothing to her estranged daughter, Heather Ilott. The judge at first instance ruled Ilott was entitled to £50,000 for the provision of reasonable maintenance. However, the Court of Appeal increased this to £143,000 to buy the property she was living in and a further £20,000 to supplement her state benefits.

The charities appealed and, after a decade of litigation, the Supreme Court has ruled in their favour, saying the Court of Appeal had erred in its application of the law and reinstated the original £50,000 award.

The decision has been warmly welcomed in reinforcing the general rule that an individual should choose who should benefit from their estate. However, there is still some uncertainty as to how competing claims of charities and family members are to be weighed up and there will be an element of deciding on a case by case basis. The Supreme Court did acknowledge that, while charities don’t have “needs” in the way individuals do, they are dependent on their legacy income to carry out their purposes which are for the public benefit. As a result, if charities are the chosen beneficiaries, any bequests made by an individual in their Will should not lightly be set aside.

If you are thinking of setting up a Will in such terms our in house solicitor Liz Hooley can guide you through the implications arising from this case.