“I Was Left Nothing In My Parent’s Will – Can I Contest It”?
Few things are more emotionally devastating than being ‘cut-out’ of a Will. The sense of betrayal can be highly acute, and such an act can leave some in dire financial straits.
If you find yourself left out of a Will, not adequately provided for, or you have not inherited because the deceased left no Will (known as dying intestate), you may be able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the Act).
The Act gives the court power to adjust the distribution of a deceased’s persons Estate in some circumstances.
However, as the case of Heather Ilott will illustrate, the courts will only exercise their discretion in exceptional cases.
Heather Ilott’s battle for her inheritance
Heather Illott became estranged from her mother, Melita Jackson, at the age of 17, after she left home to live with her boyfriend (whom she later married). Numerous attempts to reconcile failed, and when Mrs Jackson died in 2004, she left her £486,000 Estate mainly to three separate animal charities. Miss Ilott received nothing.
Miss Ilott made a claim under the Act, and was subsequently awarded £50,000 by a County Court. The Court of Appeal revised this amount to £143,000 for a house purchase plus £20,000 for living costs.
This decision was appealed by the charities. The Supreme Court examined section 2 of the Act, which allows the court to make “reasonable financial provision” for certain family members and dependents making a claim, and restored the original High Court award of £50,000.
Although the judgment acknowledged Mrs Ilott was without a pension and lived on benefits, the Supreme Court held that significant weight should be given to the wishes set down in a person’s will, and that family relationships do not automatically override the needs of charities who would use the money to do good work.
“Charities depend heavily on testamentary bequests for their work, which is by definition of public benefit and in many cases will be for demonstrably humanitarian purposes. More fundamentally, these charities were the chosen beneficiaries of the deceased. They did not have to justify a claim on the basis of need under the 1975 Act, as Mrs Ilott necessarily had to do”.
Ilott v The Blue Cross and others  UKSC 17,  All ER (D) 96 (Mar) was the first time a claim brought under the Act reached the Supreme Court. It established the estranged adult children would find it difficult to persuade the court to use its discretion to alter the Will in a drastic manner. However, Lady Hale, when giving her judgment, pointed out the present law was inadequate and needed amending to ensure clarity.
Who can claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975?
The following persons can claim under the Act:
- the spouse/civil partner of the deceased;
- the former spouse/civil partner of the deceased (as long as they have not remarried or entered into another civil partnership);
- a cohabitee who was living with the deceased for at least two years prior to their death;
- the deceased’s child (including adult children);
- someone treated as the deceased’s ‘child’ (for example, a child who is adopted, fostered, or a step-child); or
- a person being “maintained” by the deceased.
The time limit for making a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
After the Grant of Representation or Probate, a claimant has six months in which to bring a claim for financial provision under the Act. This will only be extended in exceptional circumstances, so it is crucial to seek legal advice as quickly as possible.
What factors will the Court consider when establishing whether an adult child should receive a financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975?
When evaluating whether it should use its discretion to make a financial provision to a claimant under the Act, the court will consider:
- the current and future financial resources and needs of the claimant
- the current and future financial resources and needs of any other beneficiaries of the Estate
- the obligations and responsibilities the deceased had to the claimant and beneficiaries of the Estate
- the value of the Estate
- any physical or mental disability the claimant may possess
- other matters which may be relevant, including the conduct of the claimant
Bringing a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 is complex and requires the advice and representation of a solicitor who has an in-depth knowledge of contentious Wills and Probate. Investing in expert advice, along with proof you should be provided for from the deceased’s Estate, will offer a strong possibility your claim will be successful.
Bennett Griffin is an award-winning solicitors based in West Sussex with offices in central Worthing and Ferring. Our experienced and specialist solicitors offer a comprehensive service and will work with you in an honest, considered, and practical manner. Our wills, trusts, and probate department is able to advise and assist you in relation to contesting a Will. Please contact us on 01903 229 999 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The information contained in this article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be legal advice. Professional advice should always be taken on the application of the law in any particular situation.