The Supreme Court has today handed down its decision in the case of Ilott and Mitson.
The Court unanimously allowed the Charities’ appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal to increase the award under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 to adult child, Mrs Ilott from £50,000 to £143,000.
The Supreme Court’s decision to allow the appeal was firstly on the basis that the Court of Appeal had no proper grounds for interfering with the judgment made by the District Judge at the initial trial, and that the District Judge had been entitled to take a broad brush approach.
However, the judgment also gives important guidance on a number of aspects of the jurisdiction of the Courts under the 1975 Act. The Supreme Court emphasised the importance of limiting awards to adult children to “maintenance”, observing that this was an important and deliberate legislative choice, making it clear that the purpose of the Act is not to provide legacies to an applicant.
It is now clear that:
- making reasonable provision for “maintenance” does not mean providing everything the applicant reasonably needs.
- an applicant’s needs will not necessarily be the measure of an award under the Act.
- the Court should not fix a hypothetical standard of provision and then adjust it for the other factors the court should take into account under section 3 of the Act;
- the Act requires a single assessment by the Judge, and this assessment might be “coloured” by any of the section 3 factors, including estrangement. In this case the circumstances of the relationship between Mrs Ilott was a relevant factor and the Deceased carried weight.
The Court observed that the case raised “profound questions” to which the 1975 Act does not provide an easy answer, noting that while freedom of testation enjoys strong support from public opinion, there is a wide range of public opinion about the circumstances in which adult descendants ought or ought not to be able to make a claim on an Estate. Whilst this decision does not answer all of these questions, the guidance given by the Court will be of great importance to lawyers assessing claims under the 1975 Act.
Further commentary will be given in due course.
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