The case of Heather llott's claim against her late mother's estate has been widely reported in the media. There has been much commentary about whether the law has been clarified for adult children who have been left out of a parent's Will, following the ruling of the Supreme Court in March.
Heather Ilott was completely left out of her estranged mother's Will, who instead left her estate of approximately £500,000 to three animal charities that she had no connection with during her lifetime.
Heather brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. She argued that her mother's Will failed to make adequate provision for her. The case was originally heard by a District Judge who awarded Heather £50,000. The Court of Appeal tripled the award on appeal giving Heather £143,000 to buy a house and a further £20,000.
Now, 10 years after the case was originally heard, seven Supreme Court judges have reinstated the original award of £50,000.
This case has not changed the law - it is not easier or harder to bring these sorts of Inheritance Act claims following this ruling. If you are an adult child and you have been left out of your parent's Will, our advice remains the same - seek specialist advice early on to establish whether your financial circumstances bring you within the range of awards a court is likely to make.
The basic test is whether you can show what might be reasonably required for your ongoing maintenance. The court has a wide discretion, making these sorts of claims difficult to predict in terms of what award, if any, will be made. Heather's case might have helped clarify the law on what constitutes maintenance but it has not changed it.
Equally, if you are thinking of disinheriting a child, do not be lulled into thinking that it is now easier to do this. Heather's case does not mean that you can now leave your estate to whomever you choose, without fear of challenge.
There are steps you can take to make it harder for a disinherited child to challenge your Will but you cannot prevent the prospect of it entirely.
You should regularly review and update your Will to take account of the changing nature of family relationships and the financial circumstances of your children.
If you are thinking about disinheriting a child, even one that might be estranged, you should always take specialist advice. The cost of taking timely, measured and most importantly expert advice will be a fraction of the costs your estate will potentially face if it becomes embroiled in lengthy and costly litigation caused by a badly drafted Will, or a Will that fails to take account of changing family circumstances.