Supreme Court overturns Court of Appeal decision in animal charities case

Published on 15 March 2017

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Some good news for charities. The Supreme Court has overturned the Court of Appeal decision in the Melita Jackson and Heather Ilott case.

The background to the case is that Melita Jackson had been estranged from her daughter, Heather Ilott, for the 26 years prior to her death in 2004. In her will, Mrs Jackson made it very clear that she did not want her daughter to benefit and left her entire estate (worth just under £500,000) to three animal charities. Mrs Ilott challenged the will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act. In very simple terms, this Act empowers the Court to make awards of reasonable financial provision for the spouse, former spouse, child or dependant of the deceased. In 2007, Mrs Ilott was awarded £50,000 by a district judge.

Mrs Ilott, a mother-of-five, appealed the award of £50,000 on the basis that it was insufficient as she had no pension and was living on state benefits. The High Court judge reversed the original decision to award her the £50,000 in the first place.

In 2011, the Court of Appeal ruled that Mrs Ilott was entitled to a share of the money and reinstated the previous award. Again, Mrs Ilott appealed in an attempt to get a larger share of the money but in 2014 the High Court refused her appeal and kept the award at £50,000.

Mrs Ilott challenged this decision and, in 2015, the Court of Appeal awarded her £164,000. The three animal charities set to benefit from Mrs Jackson’s estate appealed this decision and the Supreme Court has upheld their challenge and reversed the Court of Appeal decision. Mrs Ilott will now receive the original £50,000 award.

In summary, charities can now be more confident that the courts will only intervene in particular situations. Whilst family members can continue to seek reasonable financial provision from a deceased’s estate, the Supreme Court has confirmed that we are all free to choose who will benefit when we die.

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