Ruth Hawkins, of Turpin & Miller LLP

As has been reported in the Press and on the News, this week, the Supreme Court, the most senior Court in the UK, has overturned an earlier Court of Appeal decision in Ilott v The Blue Cross and others, upholding an appeal brought by three animal charities.

The Court of Appeal had previously backed a woman who had been excluded from her late mother’s Will in favour of The Blue Cross, the RSPCA and the RSPB.

The Supreme Court said the Court of Appeal made a mistake when calculating ‘reasonable financial provision’ under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and allowed the charities’ appeal against that decision. The Supreme Court came to the decision unanimously.

The case involved Heather Ilott, who had been excluded from her mother Melita Jackson’s Will. Mrs Jackson left most of her estate, worth around £500,000, to the charities. Mrs Jackson had excluded her daughter after she left home with a boyfriend as a 17-year-old.

When Ms Ilott challenged the Will under the 1975 Act she was initially awarded £50,000.

Both parties appealed: Ilott claimed she had not been awarded enough, while the charities said there was no lack of reasonable provision in the original judgment.

In the Court of Appeal, Ms Ilott, was awarded £143,000 - to buy the rented home she was living in - plus an extra £20,000 for additional income. The Court of Appeal said Ms Ilott, who has five children and was on benefits and without a pension, was not given a reasonable provision in the Will.

However, this Supreme Court verdict strikes out that ruling and restores the original ruling. Ms Ilott will receive the original £50,000 award.

Handing down the judgment, Lord Justice Anthony Hughes said it confirms existing case law that an ‘appeal will not succeed unless the judge made error of principle’.

Lady Hale described the present inheritance law as ‘unsatisfactory’, and gave a supplementary judgment questioning the need for further clarification of the Law about this issue.

What seems clear is that when considering leaving a Will, it remains vitally important that you take advice about such matters from a qualified advisor, be that a solicitor or lawyer or qualified Wills writer. Whilst the Supreme Court have upheld the original decision, it is still the case that the original court, did award £50,000 to Ms Ilott, even though her mother’s Will excluded her. At the Court of Appeal, there was concern that Mrs Jackson had left her estate to three charities she’d apparently had no connection to.

It is clearly the case that anyone seeking to exclude a close family member in their Will, particularly if this is in favour of a charity, should take advice and ideally should set out their reasons for this in their Will or in supplementary documents kept with the Will. The more care that is taken to set out the rationale for this, the less vulnerable the Will will be to any later challenges.

If in doubt, take advice!

Ruth Hawkins is a partner at Turpin & Miller LLP