Inheritance Claims by Adult Children
Date: January 26th 2018
The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 allows certain categories of persons to make claims against the estate of the deceased, these are:
- Surviving wife/husband/civil partner;
- A former wife or husband who has not remarried;
- A child of the deceased;
- Any person who, although was not the child of the deceased, was treated like a child of the family by the deceased (e.g. step-child);
- A person who immediately before the death of the deceased was being maintained, either whole or partly by the deceased.
These categories of persons can apply for an order under the Act on the grounds that the deceased’s will or intestacy showed that no reasonable financial provision was made for them.
In the case of adult children, there has undoubtedly been a gradual shift over the past few decades to make a successful claim under the 1975 Act easier.
In the recent Supreme court ruling in the case of Llott v Mitson , we see a claim from an adult child, but what does the ruling really mean for children who have been disinherited under a parent’s will?
Llott V Mitson – What were the facts of the case?
In the case of Llott V Mitson, Mrs Jackson died in 2004, leaving an estate in the region of £486,000. Aside from a small number of specific legacies, she left the entirety of her estate to 3 charities. Mrs Jackson’s will made no provision for her only daughter, who had been estranged from her mother for over 20 years. Over the years the Claimant made a number of attempts at reconciliation with her mother, however these were all rejected.
Mrs Llott launched a claim against her mother’s estate relying on the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. The basis of the claim was that her mother’s will did not make reasonable financial provision for her.
After a two day hearing the District Judge found that Mrs Jackson’s will did not make reasonable financial provision for her daughter and Mrs Llott was awarded a lump sum of £50,000, on the basis that this sum was reasonable (taking into account all of the circumstances) for Mrs Llott’s maintenance.
In spite of this surprising decision in favour of Mrs Llott, she then brought an appeal on the basis that the sum awarded to her was insufficient for her maintenance. The charities at this stage made their own application on the basis that the District Judge had interpreted the law incorrectly in making any provision at all for Mrs Llott.
Mrs Ilott was not prepared to accept this finding and she made a further application to the Court of Appeal. On Appeal It was established that the correct question to be addressed was not whether the deceased had acted unreasonably but whether having considered all of the relevant factors, the resulting provision, or lack of it, was unreasonable. Mrs Llott was awarded £163,000, the cost of acquiring the Property, plus the reasonable expenses of maintaining it.
The Supreme Court
In 2017 the Charities appealed the decision and the appeal was successful. This meant that the original decision at the County Court which ordered £50,000 to Mrs Ilott was upheld, as opposed to the circa £163,000 she was awarded in the Court of Appeal. As part of its decision, the Supreme Court commented that the District Judge did not make any error in taking into account the nature of the relationship between the deceased and her daughter. The District Judge’s conclusion that there was a failure to provide reasonable financial provision was found to be correct and the Court of Appeal agreed with the fact that the quantification of “reasonable provision” would be dependent on the nature of the familial relationship.
The Supreme Court’s judgment also gives great importance to the concept of testamentary freedom, that individuals should be free to decide what ought to happen to their assets on death, without too much interference.
The Court placed great weight on the fact that the charities were the chosen beneficiaries of Mrs Jackson, and they did not have to justify their claim on the basis of need as Mrs Llott had to do.
Another interesting aspect of this case is that generally, the court will be reluctant to exercise its discretion where a charitable donation is to be depleted. The argument advanced by the charities was that whilst Mrs Ilott was of limited financial resources, her mother remained entitled when she died to dispose of her property in whatever way she pleased.
The case of Llott v Mitson highlights that when an Inheritance Dispute claim involves an adult beneficiary, the first test to be applied will be a “value judgment” or “qualitative decision“ as to whether or not reasonable financial provision has been made to the applicant. The correct question is not whether the deceased has acted unreasonably, but whether having considered all of the factors were unreasonable. This is an important distinction and it will not be sufficient to simply argue that a parent has a moral obligation to a child.
The Supreme ruling confirms that what constitutes reasonable financial provision and the appropriate level of maintenance for an application will vary on a case to case basis. What is clear is that Courts will give weight to the fact that family members have been completely estranged over a long period if it is shown that this was the reason why the deceased decided not to make provision for the applicant.
There are strict time limits for bringing an Inheritance Dispute pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 and if you consider that you may be eligible to make such a claim, it is important that you seek legal advice from an expert in contesting wills without delay.