UK Supreme Court ruling that will make it more difficult to challenge a parents’ Will

In March 16, 2017
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The UK’s highest court has ruled in favour of three charities, in a landmark case that will make it more difficult for children to challenge their parents’ Wills.

When Melita Jackson died in 2004 she made it very clear that she didn’t want her estranged daughter to benefit. This led to a long court battle challenging the Will.

The UK Supreme Court overturned an earlier ruling in favour of Heather Ilott, who had been disinherited by her mother. Ms Jackson left all of her estate to three animal charities, but her estranged daughter challenged the Will and was awarded around a third of her late mother’s £486,000 estate by the Court of Appeal. That decision has now been overturned.

Timeline of the protracted court battle…

  • 2002: Melita Jackson makes her last Will with a letter explaining she had disinherited her only daughter, after she walked out of the family home in 1978 to live with her boyfriend.
  • 2004: Mrs Jackson dies aged 70.
  • 2007: Heather Ilott challenges the Will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act and is awarded £50,000 on the basis she had been “unreasonably” excluded, but when she applies for a larger share of the money, a High Court judge reverses the decision to award it to her in the first place.
  • 2011: The Court of Appeal rules Mrs Ilott is entitled to a share of the money after all.
  • 2014: Mrs Ilott loses a battle to get a larger share of the money at the High Court.
  • 2015: The decision was successfully challenged at the Court of Appeal and Mrs Ilott is awarded £164,000.
  • 2017: Three animal charities set to benefit from the majority of Mrs Jackson’s estate win a Supreme Court challenge, resulting in Mrs Ilott’s sum being reduced to the original £50,000.

Our View

This ruling fundamentally supports the issue of testamentary freedom, whereby in the UK we are permitted under law to leave our estate to whomever we want. This ruling will potentially make it more difficult for adult children to challenge their parent’s Wills under the Inheritance Act and it may give people executing a Will greater strength to resist any challenges.

It should also give people peace of mind when writing a Will that their wishes will be followed, and where appropriate and with valid reasons, children can still be disinherited.

This case demonstrates the importance of writing a Will and ensuring that your estate will pass on to the right people at the right time. It also highlights how critical having a professionally drafted Will is. A DIY Will, would most likely not have stood up in the courts.

Taking professional advice to make sure your reasons for dis-inheriting a family member are valid and unlikely to conflict with the Inheritance Act is vital, as well as a clearly documented set of notes that explain your reasons and rationale. Remember, if someone challenges your Will, you will not be here to defend it, so having a professional Will drafted makes it easier for your wishes to be followed and defended in the event of a challenge.

If you are interested in learning more about Wills, Inheritance Tax and Trust Planning, then come along to our next seminar on 28th March at Old Thorns Manor Hotel, Liphook. More details can be found here!  




Jasmine has been a qualified Financial Planner since 2008. She has also been a member of the Society of Will Writers since 2012. She is passionate about helping Clients build their wealth and achieve the financial lifestyle they desire. Her areas of expertise are that of Savings, Investments, Pensions and Retirement Planning.

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