Your Will: risk of excluding your close family

Ilott v Mitson

The recent case of Ilott v Mitson has highlighted how important it is to have a carefully thought out Will.

In this case an estranged daughter was excluded from her mother’s Will in favour of four animal charities. Ilott challenged the Will on the ground that her mother had no previous affiliation to these charities. As the case went through various appeals Ilott was been awarded more and more of the estate, with the most recent ruling awarding her 1/3rd of the estate, or £163,000.

The circumstances of the case were unusual. The Court confirmed the lack of a previous affiliation with the charities. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 states that a testator should give “reasonable financial provision”. The Will left by Mrs Jackson had failed to do this. By disinheriting her daughter, Mrs Jackson had left Mrs Ilott unable to purchase her council house and left her at the risk of being homeless. Mrs Ilott has 5 children and lived on income of less than £7,000 and benefits of around £13,000. Her standard of living was “at such a basic level that they outweigh the importance that would normally be attached to the fact that the appellant is an adult child who has been living independently for so many years”.

There has been a further case recently, Sharp v Hutchins, exploring similar issues. Family members were disinherited in favour of a third party. In this case Mr Butcher, an elderly bachelor with no immediate family, rewrote his Will naming his builder and friend Mr Sharp as his sole beneficiary. By doing so he disinherited his niece, nephew and a cousin. The judge found in favour of Mr Sharp and rebuked the claimants’ accusations that the Will had been written under duress, and found that he was mentally competent to understand the repercussions of his actions.

Both of these cases highlight why you must be cautious when excluding close family members from your Will. If your Will does not provide for your immediate family (normally spouses and children) then your wishes could be overturned: you should at very least leave an explanation for your actions.