Comfort for those making wills
Advertisement Feature by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers
THE SUPREME Court made an important decision on wills and inheritance last month. The decision gives some comfort to those making wills that their wishes will be usually be respected after they die. The decision also clarifies the rules on when a will or (if there is no will) the intestacy rules can be challenged.
In this case Ms Heather Llott left home at 17 after being excluded by her mother. Some thirty years later, her mother died leaving around £500,000 to various charities.
On benefits, with no pension and living in a rented flat with her husband and five children, Ms Llott challenged her mother’s will. She relied on the Inheritance (Provision for Families and Dependents) Act 1975 (the Inheritance Act), which provides that a wife/husband, a child or one treated as a child can claim reasonable financial provision from the estate in certain circumstances.
The court agreed with Ms Llott in part, and on the facts, ordered £50,000 of the mother’s estate to be paid to her.
Both Ms Llott and the charities appealed: the former arguing that £50,000 was not enough; the charities arguing that it was too much and that the mother’s final wishes should be respected.
The Court of Appeal agreed Ms Llott was entitled to but had not been given a reasonable provision in the will. The court increased her award to £143,000.
The charity appealed and this time, the Supreme Court found against Ms Llott. In upholding the first court’s decision, the Supreme Court found the first judge was correct and had not make any errors of principle in awarding £50,000.
In each case, it is for the judge to assess the circumstances and to decide the extent to which a claimant has a right to receive some of the inheritance – and how much.
After the Court of Appeal gave its decision (awarding just under a third of the total inheritance), some were concerned the judgment would encourage adult children to dispute their parents’ wills – thereby undermining a person’s freedom to make provision when writing wills. The Supreme Court decision alleviates this concern.
The Supreme Court’s judgment also reassures charities, who earn much of their income from charitable bequests made through wills, that they will not have to deal with multiple challenges from adults ignored by their parents in their will.
Lady Hale, one of the Supreme Court judges, considered the current state of inheritance laws to be unsatisfactory. In particular, she pointed to the fact that the Inheritance Act gives no guidance on what factors should be taken into account when deciding whether an adult child deserves – or not – reasonable maintenance provision from the inheritance.
In last month’s edition we stated Probate laws fees were due to increase. However, the government dropped its proposals, confirming there is insufficient time to implement the legislation ahead of the general election in June.
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