Overturned will hits headlines - Palmers Solicitors

Overturned will hits headlines

The overturning of a will in favour of a woman specifically excluded from it has been hitting the headlines.

But a Palmers’ partner specialising in both drafting and challenging wills says that while the case has underlined the importance of making a will – and being very clear about the reasons why money or property has been left to certain beneficiaries – it has done little to change the existing legal position.

The case involved the will of Melita Jackson, who left her £500,000 estate to animal charities when she died in 2004, excluding her daughter Heather Illott. Their relationship broke down after Heather left home at the age of 17 to live with her future husband, Nicholas Illott and Mrs Jackson later wrote to her lawyers saying: “I have made it clear to my daughter…that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die.”

Mrs Ilott challenged the will in 2007 on reasonable provision grounds under the 1975 Inheritance Act, receiving £50,000 in 2011 before seeking more money. She lost in the High Court last year but succeeded in the Court of Appeal, which awarded her £164,000 to buy her housing association home in Hertfordshire, with £20,000 left over to supplement her state benefits.

Reasonable provision claims are possible when certain people with a close relationship to the person who died – such as a spouse or civil partner, a child or a cohabiting partner of at least two years – have been left without sufficient money in a will or, where there is no will, under an intestacy. Claims must be brought within six months of probate being granted.

Palmers’ Lee McClellan said: “This case makes for eye-catching headlines but it actually does little to change existing law.

“However, what it does usefully do is underline the importance of both making a will (the charities would have received nothing from the estate had there been no will) and of leaving clear evidence not only of the reason why you are excluding certain people from benefit but of why you are choosing to leave your money to the particular beneficiaries named within the will. Mrs Jackson did not have a strong relationship with the animal charities receiving her estate and that was a factor in the case.

“It is always unfortunate when family relationships break down but when it does happen, anyone planning to make a will in which they disinherit family members who might otherwise expect to benefit on their death should seek advice from a solicitor specialising in this area of law on how best to achieve their wishes.

“Challenging a will successfully is not easy, particularly if the will has been prepared by a specialist in this field, but it is possible. We have experience of this type of case at Palmers and can provide expert legal advice on the strength of a case and how best to proceed. For more information, please contact us.”