Daughter Wins Share of £480,000 Inheritance Left to Charity

A woman whose mother left an entire estate to charity has won her appeal for a substantial payment from the estate, sufficient to meet her need for reasonable maintenance.

Melita Jackson died in July 2004 at the age of 70, leaving a net estate of some £480,000, mostly to the Blue Cross Animal Welfare Society, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. There was no evidence that the deceased had any connection with the charities or that she had any particular love of animals or birds.

The deceased's will made no provision for the daughter, now aged 50 and the only child, albeit estranged from the mother at the date of death. The daughter, Heather Ilott, is a married woman with five children, living on a low income and benefits. Mrs Jackson was a widow whose husband, Mrs Ilott’s father, died in an industrial accident in 1960, whilst the mother was pregnant with her only daughter. Mrs Jackson formed a lasting relationship with another man, but never had any other children, living with him until his death in 1996.

When Mrs Ilott was 17 she met a man of whom her mother disapproved. She left the home she shared with her mother and stepfather to live with her boyfriend and his family and subsequently married him, having five children. Despite various attempts at reconciliation, the mother never forgave Mrs Ilott for her decision to leave home and so excluded any provision for her daughter form her will.

When Mrs Ilott made an application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, she was awarded a £50,000 payment from her mother’s estate by a district judge. The Act allows a spouse, child or dependant (among others) to claim against a deceased person’s estate if their need for ‘reasonable financial provision’ has not been met.

Considering the £50,000 award insufficient for her needs, Mrs Ilott appealed to the High Court, where her appeal was not only dismissed, but a cross appeal by the charities succeeded in setting aside the original £50,000 award, leaving Mrs Ilott with nothing. She appealed again.

At the Court of Appeal, it was held that the High Court was wrong to reverse the original award and that the discretion of the district judge to make the award had been properly exercised. The Court directed that Mrs Ilott’s appeal against the amount of the award be reheard by a different judge, but urged the parties to come to a settlement in order to avoid the expense of a further trial.

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