Landmark Judgment in Daughter’s Claim for Financial Provision
Thursday 16th March 2017
You may or may not be familiar with the case of Ilott v Mitson  UKSC 17.
It concerns a claim by an adult daughter for financial provision from her mother’s estate. The Supreme Court handed down judgement yesterday on this, sadly, long running dispute. The mother has been dead for 12 years. Mother and daughter had long been estranged, the daughter having left home secretly aged 17 in 1978 to live with her boyfriend (later to become her husband). Mother and daughter never reconciled despite various attempts over the years. The daughter, husband and their five children have lived in financially straightened circumstances ever since relying in part on state benefits and tax credits but existing completely independent of the mother.
The mother’s estate, of which the house was the principle asset, was worth approximately £486,000. She left nothing to her daughter and almost everything to various charities with which she had not had any particular connection during her life.
Initially the daughter was awarded £50,000. The Court of Appeal overturned that decision and awarded the daughter £143,000 to buy the house which her family was renting from a Housing Association and an option to draw down on a further capital sum of £20,000 (so as to preserve the family’s benefits and tax credits entitlements).
The seven Supreme Court Judges unanimously agreed to reverse the Court of Appeal’s decision. They restored the original award of £50,000.
Whilst the two written judgements provide interesting discourses on, amongst other things, the concept of maintenance, freedom of testamentary disposition and forced heirship, the various stages of the case, up to and including the Supreme Court stage, highlight a number of practical things that we think are worth bearing in mind (the list is not exhaustive):
- Adult children who have long been estranged from their parents can still make claims for financial provision from their parents’ estates – the success of the claim will depend on the facts of the case;
- As a testator, there is no mechanism which will prevent such claims being made, but you can at least explain your reasons clearly for not benefitting certain members of the family in an accompanying letter of wishes and you can consider including a discretionary trust in your will which could provide for an estranged family member subject to the trustees’ discretion;
- As a potential claimant, it is absolutely essential to do a thorough analysis of your income, your current and likely future outgoings and the effect of any award on any state benefits or tax credits which you receive;
- Different Courts may reach different decisions on the same set of facts – meaning that mediation or constructive negotiations are often the best way to resolve these cases and minimise the stress on all parties; and
- The reasonableness of the parties’ conduct towards one another whilst the deceased was alive is not likely to carry great weight in the Court’s mind, although it still may be considered when assessing any award.
If you would like to discuss this case, or a problem which you have relating to family provision or estates, will and trusts, then please don’t hesitate to get in contact with any of: