Daughter wins appeal over inheritance

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The Independent Online

A daughter whose late mother left everything to animal charities won an appeal today against a ruling which meant she would receive nothing.

Heather Ilott's mother Melita Jackson died in July 2004 at the age of 70 and left a net estate of around £486,000.

After some pecuniary legacies the widow left the entirety of her residuary estate to The Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

But she had not made any provision for her only child, who was estranged from her mother at the time of her death.

Mrs Ilott succeeded in a Court of Appeal challenge today, winning a ruling which leading charities say they fear could have a "devastating" impact on future charitable giving.

Mother-of-five Mrs Ilott, 50, who lives in Great Munden, near Ware, Herts, in what were described as "modest circumstances", first challenged the will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act before District Judge Clive Million who found that it did not make reasonable provision for her.

He ordered that she should have £50,000 from the estate.

Mrs Ilott then asked the High Court to increase the sum but Mrs Justice Eleanor King allowed the cross appeal of the charities, leaving the daughter with nothing.

But three appeal judges, headed by Sir Nicholas Wall, president of the Family Division, have now overturned the High Court judge's decision.

Sir Nicholas, sitting in London with Lady Justice Arden and Lady Justice Black, said: "In my view the district judge was entitled to find that the absence of provision for the appellant was unreasonable, and the judge was plainly wrong to reverse him."

He directed that Mrs Ilott's appeal over the size of the sum awarded by the district judge should now be heard by a High Court judge.

But he emphasised: "Whilst this is an outcome which I would direct, I would urge the parties to consider carefully whether a further hearing is in anyone's interests.

"No doubt substantial additional costs will be incurred, and compromise, now that the appellant has won her major point, must be in the interests of everyone."

Lady Justice Arden said that Giles Harrap, counsel representing the charities at the appeal, had not "made good" his submission that the conclusion of the district judge "wrongly diminished the respect that ought to be accorded to testamentary freedom and introduced an undesirable element of uncertainty which made it difficult and costly for practitioners to advise tastators".

She said it was clear Parliament "intended that an adult child should be able to bring a claim even if was possible for him or her to subsist without making a claim on the estate".

Lady Justice Black said: "The district judge set out the relevant factors and I am not persuaded that he failed thereafter to take them into account in arriving at his value judgment, nor am I persuaded that he gave undue weight to the unreasonableness of the deceased's actions or allowed financial need to dictate the outcome without putting it into the context of all the circumstances of the case.

"In my view it has not been demonstrated that the decision he reached was plainly wrong."