In 2004, a woman named Melita Jackson left £486,000 to animal charities. Her daughter, Heather Ilott, took the will to court in order to get a share of this estate – the will did not initially feature her at all. The pair had fallen out after Ms Ilott had eloped at the age of 17. She went on to have a long and happy relationship, and five children with her husband. But Ms Jackson could never forgive her daughter for what she had done.
Eventually, after many months, the Court of Appeal agreed that Ms Ilott should receive one third of the estate.
What does this mean in terms in will writing and inheritance? The experts are predicting that this could mean that people will not be able to disinherit their children unless they give a detailed reason why. Simply missing them out of the will without any additional documentation to explain why could mean that, if the children take the will to court, they will be given part of the estate. It will make it much easier for those who have been disinherited to challenge the wills of their parents.
The judge in this case ruled that Ms Ilott should have one third of the estate as her mother had not left her ‘reasonable provision’.
Did you know that, if you are unhappy with a will, bequest, or legacy, you can challenge in it court? A recent survey showed that around 40% of people had no idea they had this sort of recourse, or they thought it would be a ‘distasteful thing to do’ – even when the will itself was thought to be wrong. The older a person is the less likely they are to make any sort of challenge, even if they have been left out completely (this sometimes happens when there is more than one child in a family; the eldest child is left more than the others, if the younger ones are left anything at all).
But this may well be worth bearing in mind because reports show that 80% of challenges to wills are actually successful (although only 32% of wills thought to be unfair actually make it to court).
To challenge a will there must be a valid reason behind it. There is also a time limit, so it is important to seek legal advice as soon as you feel you have a claim; leaving it too long to at least check to see whether you might be able to change the will can cause you to miss out completely when there was no need for it. When you speak to an expert, they will be able to ascertain how likely it is you will win should you take the case to court (and therefore whether it is worth pursuing in the first place), and how much time you have left to put in a claim.
Just feeling that a will is unfair, or acknowledging that the bequest – if any – is not what you were hoping for is not a valid reason for challenging a will. However possible claims could come under not being sure that the signature belongs to the deceased, believing the witnesses may not have carried out their task correctly, believing that the will was written under duress, thinking that the true intentions of the will haven’t been understood, or if you haven’t been allowed reasonable provision. No one can be forced to leave someone something in their will, but there are occasions when this ‘reasonable provision’ should be adhered to.