Illott v Mitson Court Ruling – Upholding Testators Wishes

The widely reported Illott v Mitson case this week reached a final conclusion at the Supreme Court after a 10 year battle between three animal charities and a daughter excluded from her mothers £500,000 will.

Heather Illott’s mother Milita Jackson left most of her estate to charities but nothing to her daughter when she died in 2004.

When Mrs Illott originally appealed against the will in 2007 she was awarded £50,000 by a district judge. The sum was increased by the Court of Appel in 2015 - £140,000 to buy her housing association property and £20,000 structured to enable her to keep her state benefits. The court ruled that Mrs Ilott would otherwise face a life of poverty because she was on benefits and could not afford to go on holiday or buy clothes for her children.

The charities sought to challenge this award and in a unanimous judgement, the Supreme Court allowed their appeal in a decision handed down on 15th March 2017.

As reported by the BBC, before her death in 2004, Mrs Jackson wrote in a letter to lawyers: "I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate. I have made it clear to my daughter... that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die."

She explicitly instructed the executors of her will to fight any claim Mrs Ilott might make after her death.

The relationship between mother and daughter worsened when aged 17 Mrs Ilott eloped with a man her mother disapproved of, but who she remains married to.

There were failed reconciliation attempts which were blamed on both sides.

James Aspden, the solicitor acting for the three animal charities, said the Supreme Court had upheld a "vital principle".

"It reaffirms in a unanimous sense from the highest court in the land that principle that we're all free to choose who will benefit when we die."

This case highlights the importance of having appropriate plans in place as there may have been a different outcome where the charities’ legacy was concerned if this had not been the case. Some commentators have suggested that this result could provide greater reassurance to testators knowing that their wills are less likely to be challenged. What will certainly be of interest will be how this ruling may influence the outcome of future challenges to wills.

What are your thoughts on the Illott v Mitson Case – did the Supreme Court make the correct ruling? Let us know on enquiries@btwc.co.uk