Unfairly Left Out of A Will
Media stories about ordinary families at war over their inheritance are commonplace. It seems it’s no longer just about celebrities and the mega-rich either. Disputes often occur in ordinary families about being unfairly left out of a Will. Many people assume they have an inalienable right to leave their cash and assets to whomever they choose when they die. But the law doesn’t necessarily back this up.
In fact, under the Inheritance (Provision for Families and Dependants) Act 1975, those disappointed by what they’ve been left or feeling they have been left out the Will unfairly, can bring a claim for ‘reasonable financial provision’.
Eligibility Under The Inheritance Act
To bring a claim under the Inheritance Act you must be either:
- A child/children of the person who has died;
- Those treated on a similar footing;
- A spouse or long term cohabiting partner; or
- An individual(s) who were being “maintained” by the deceased
Hitting The Headlines
Daughter Cut Out of Will – Ilott v The Blue Cross – Estranged from her mother (Melita Jackson) for years, Heather Ilott left home at the age of 17. She had an annual income of £20,000 and was reliant on state benefits. Her mother left the majority of her £500,000 estate to three charities, making no provision for Heather. The Inheritance battle lasted 10 years, ending up in the Supreme Court. Whilst the money awarded to Heather was increased on appeal, in 2017, the Supreme Court reinstated the original award. Heather received £50,000, contrary to her mother’s wishes/Will.
Disinherited Daughter – Ames v Jones & Ors – This case centred on Danielle Ames’ claim to a share of her father’s estate worth circa £1m. Danielle, who was not working, claimed that her family struggled financially and had understood that her father would provide for her in his Will. The judge rejected her claim. He pointed out that her father had already given her financial support to start her own business and that she had made a ‘lifestyle choice’ not to work after having children.
Adult Child Told to Live Within Means – Wellesley v Wellesley – Ms Wellesley, estranged for 30 years, was left £20,000 in her father’s Will. Most of his estate was left to his son, with provision for his wife and step-children. Ms Wellesley believed her family had treated her badly, causing the rift. She argued that her ADHD left her unable to work and reliant on benefits. She thought her support should come from her father’s Will instead of the state. The court did not agree, ruling that she had caused the family estrangement, seemed to be living within her means and that her ADHD was not a barrier to her working. Lady Hale commented “The law has not, or not yet, recognised a public interest in expecting or obliging parents to support their adult children so as to save public money” whilst another judge pointed out that, unlike some continental countries, we do not have a system of forced heirship and that “the starting point is testamentary freedom”.
It’s clear that the success or failure of any Inheritance Act claim will depend on the facts of the individual case. It’s not a one size fits all scenario.
If you’re thinking about making a claim under the Inheritance Act or, stand to lose out if a successful claim is made, it’s best to get expert legal advice as soon as you can, especially as there are time limits under the regulations. Establishing the strengths and weaknesses of your case early on will improve the chances of resolving the dispute as cost-efficiently as possible.
For more information or advice on Inheritance Tax claims, please contact us. We’re here to help.
Please note that all views, comments or opinions expressed are for information only and do not constitute and should not be interpreted as being comprehensive or as giving legal advice. No one should seek to rely or act upon, or refrain from acting upon, the views, comments or opinions expressed herein without first obtaining specialist, professional or independent advice. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, Curtis Parkinson cannot be held liable for any errors, omissions or inaccuracies.