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’.
Ex-husband's inheritance appeal goes ahead
The Court of Appeal heard a case recently, whereby the ex-husband of a woman was granted an appeal to contest the validity of his late mother in law's will, in a bid to claim his alleged inheritance.
Prior to their divorce ten years ago, the couple had allegedly formed an agreement whereby on the mother in law's death, £100,000 from her estate would go to her daughter and the remainder of the balance of the estate would then be divided between the same daughter and her then-husband.
Although no dates are given, at some point in time after this event, the couple divorced and the wife's mother passed away. Her daughter was indeed left £100,000 but instead of the balance of £150,000 being divided between the daughter and the now ex-husband as previously agreed however, the entire balance was left to the woman's children.
The ex-husband subsequently argued that he was entitled to half of the balance which amounted to £75,000 and brought about a probate claim to challenge the validity of the will. This initial claim was turned down however, as the court found that he did not have enough "interest" in the will as a creditor of the beneficiary. The only people entitled to challenge a will it noted, are actual executors, beneficiaries and creditors of the deceased.
The Court of Appeal felt differently, however. Lord Dyson ruled that the man was connected enough to the estate to maintain sufficient "interest" and recognised that the only way he could fight for his money was to challenge the validity of the will.
The case will now go to appeal.
The recent, well publicised case of King v Dubery and others has helped to clarify the concept of deathbed gifts.
In this case, Mr. King resided with and cared for his aunt. When she passed away, he claimed that she had made a deathbed gift to him of the house, about four to six months prior to her death and had in fact, handed over the title deeds. Unfortunately, there was no such provision in her will.
Several animal charities, who stood to share the residue of the deceased's estate, challenged this claim and in July last year, the case was heard before Charles Hollander Q.C. at the High Court.
In English law, deathbed gifts require that the giver must be aware that their death is imminent and the gift can only take effect in the event of their death.
In this case, there was no evidence to show that Mr. King's aunt was thought to be seriously ill. She had not indicated that she expected to die shortly, nor had she recently consulted a doctor. Moreover, she was not scheduled to undergo a risky surgical procedure nor undertake a dangerous trip.
The court did, however, hear evidence that Mr. King's aunt had made several unsuccessful attempts to alter her will in order to leave the house to her nephew. In the judge's view, these attempts were sufficient to demonstrate that she had become increasingly preoccupied with her impending death.
Taking this, and the recent case of Vallee v Birchwood (in which the court found that a period of five months between the gift being made and the death of the giver satisfied the test for deathbed gifts), into account, the judge ruled that Mr. King's aunt had indeed made a deathbed gift of the house to him.
The charities appealed this decision in the Court of Appeal.
In overturning the High Court's decision, the appellate judges held that the giver must believe that death, for some reason or another, is impending. The judges observed that in most of the reported cases of deathbed gifts, the gift had been made when the giver was gravely ill, often only a matter of days prior to their death.
Mr. King's aunt, said the judges, had no reason to consider that her death was imminent. They further held that her attempts to change her will were not necessarily made in order to make a deathbed gift of the house. Finally, the judges concluded that the case of Vallee v. Blackwood, on which Mr. Hollander had based his decision, had been wrongly decided.
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Farming inheritance battle likely to cost £1 million
A farming inheritance battle, which was eventually won by the daughter of a farming family, is likely to cost the parents around £1 million in legal fees.
This high profile case as reported in Farmers Weekly, involved one of three daughters within a farming family. Two of the daughters wanted no part of the family business but the third stated that she spent 30 years working on the 320ha farm for little or no salary. Indeed, Eirian Davies said that she didn't receive any wages at all until she was 21 years old.
In return, it seems that her parents showed her a draft will in 2009 which gave details indicating that the entire farm, worth £3.8 million, would be left to Eirian. At some point in time after this event however, the will was changed, putting the farm in trust so that all three daughters would benefit equally.
The woman's parents sought to evict her from a cottage on the farm where she still lives and argued that they had left Eirian enough to buy a house, but the court ruled that this was not enough to compensate her for her suffering and did not reflect their original promise to her, awarding Ms Davies £1.3 million.
Since the court case a few weeks ago, there has been an indication that Mr and Mrs Davies are to attend another hearing on 18 March which may allow them to appeal against the compensation award given to their daughter or to delay the payment. Meanwhile, Eirian's lawyer says that he will use this hearing to apply for costs to be reimbursed, which his client incurred during the Court of Appeal and High Court hearings. If successful, the final legal bill for Mr and Mrs Davies is likely to reach up to £1 million.
#iwcprobate #inheritancetax #probate