What Happens when you Contest a Will, Example Cases?

As can be seen from the articles previous produced, we are running a series of articles which explains, hopefully in a non-legal way, how a disheartened beneficiary may contest a will, or make a claim under what is known as the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.

The previous articles have dealt with the formal legal position, but we give below some example cases, which are public cases, which have occurred in recent years.

As more and more wills are being contested by disappointed family members, who believe they should have had a share or greater share of inheritance, cases tend to fall into the public eye. One of the major cases is a case called ‘Illott v Mitson’ and others 2015.

This is a core case, and in this case, Mrs Illott brought a successful claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975, against her mother’s estate despite being excluded from her mother’s will. The estate was valid around £480,000 and had been left to three animal charities.

Mrs Illott was estranged, and therefore her mother had deliberately excluded her daughter from the will, and instead left her estate to three animal charities, which it was found she had no connection with whatsoever.

Previously, adult children who tried to claim under the Inheritance Act, on the grounds of reasonable financial provision not being made for them, were unsuccessful as there was no evidence that as an adult, they were being provided for by their parents. Despite this, at first instance, (‘in the first instance’ simply means the first time it came before a judge at court), Mrs Illott was successful in her claim, and was ordered £50,000.

This decision was appealed by Mrs Illott, on the grounds that the award was insufficient, as it would deprive her of her means tested benefits, and not provide her with enough funds to purchase the Housing Association Property she was currently residing in. The court of appeal award her £143,000 to enable her to buy her home, along with an additional £20,000 for income.

This decision was appealed by the defendants to the supreme court, who held that as Mrs Illott had not been financial dependant on her mother, she did not require an income, and that any provision was reasonable given in the circumstances. Her original award of £50,000 was therefore reinstated.

This case is important in lots of ways, one of which is that it went all the way to the supreme court, (the highest court in the land) and their Lordships considered this, and their judgment was given.

Interestingly the deceased had left the will, but also left a note which effectively said that her daughter was to receive nothing, and that if the daughter contested the will, her executors were to fight this and ensure that she received nothing. The executors were therefore put into a difficult position, because the clear instructions were that if Mrs Illott proceeded with a claim, they had to defend it.

The other point that should be noted is the costs in this case were exceptionally high, and in excess of £280,000.

Obviously, a case that goes all the way through to the supreme court is going to be very costly, and the estate and amounts argued have to be worthwhile. However, costs in these matters should be carefully considered and dealt with from the outset.

As a general, rule the party that wins the case receives their costs, the party who loses the case does not receive their costs, but in certain circumstances they maybe responsible for the winner’s costs aswell.

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