Inheritance Dispute Ruling Shows Need for Professional Advice
A law firm is warning that a landmark Court of Appeal decision could weaken people's right to leave their estates to charities after death.
Battens Solicitors say the case of Heather Ilott is evidence that the Courts are willing to consider changing a parent's Will where adult children have been excluded following a fall-out within the family.
Under the ruling, Mrs Ilott has been awarded £164,000 following a decade-long legal fight which culminated in judges ultimately rewriting her late mother's Will.
The mother, Melita Jackson, had disapproved of her only daughter running away with a man when she was 17, and the two women became estranged. As a result, she excluded her daughter from her Will and instead left her estate to three animal charities. She left a letter indicating that she had chosen the charities more or less at random.
By the time of her mother's death in 2004, Mrs Ilott had long been married to the man she had run away with and gone on to have five children with him.
Natalie Mason, a Solicitor in the Tax, Wills, Estates and Trusts Department of Battens Solicitors, said: "The mother had never got over the daughter running away but the Court of Appeal has decided that she unreasonably excluded her from the Will. The judges have awarded Mrs Ilott, one third of her mother's estate.
"The ruling highlights the fact that in some cases, Wills can be challenged. Certain categories of family member can go to court and say that they have not received a reasonable share under the Will. Wills cannot always be regarded as cast iron and safe from attack.
"The law in this area has not been altered by this decision but it has changed the emphasis. Professional advisers will need to ask those awkward questions about past family breakdowns.
"Not only will they ask why their client is excluding X, they will need to ask why A, B and C are inheriting more than X or instead of X. The lawyer's file may be disclosed after their client has died, and at that stage careful explanations and justifications in the file will be crucially important."
Ms Mason, a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, added: "This case demonstrates the need to ensure you receive professional advice when considering how you are going to leave your estate and that you discuss with your lawyer whether you are going to stick to the decisions in your Will and, if so, how you can best ensure that those decisions stand up to challenge after you have gone."
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