When clients come to solicitors, they do so that when they die, their wishes are carried out. In unusual situations, where there has been duress or the person making the will has some form of mental illness, a will can be overturned.
For most people, there are some limitations on giving away things in your will. Particularly spouses, but also children and financially dependent people may make a claim on the estate. If a husband left his wife of 30 years nothing, and left everything to Battersea Dogs Home, the courts may interfere based on the Inheritance Act 1975. Most people would see the fairness of this.
It is quite common for a client to come in and wish to totally exclude a child that they have not seen for 20 years. The courts have been wrestling with this problem. In the Ilott v Mitson case, a mother cut her only child out of her will. Daughter had left at 17 to live and then marry a man who mother disapproved of. Mother, Mrs Jackson left £500,000 to 3 charities. The daughter, Mrs Ilott is not well off and relying on state benefits. She argued that her mother. had failed to make reasonable financial provision for her in her Will.
In the Court of Appeal, Mrs Ilott was awarded a large portion her mother’s estate. The top court of the land, on 15 March 2017, the Supreme Court handed down a judgment which means that the Mrs Ilott only receives a modest part of Mrs Jackson’s estate (£50,000), instead of circa £163,000 she was awarded in a lower court.
The Supreme Court highlighted the importance of people having the freedom to decide their own wills ‘testamentary freedom’ when considering these types of cases.
The Supreme Court also looked at the issue of estrangement (of children from their parents) and felt that lower courts did not give this factor sufficient weight.
Charities were only briefly mentioned in the judgment. The Supreme Court noted that charities do depend heavily on testamentary gifts for their work. The fundamental point was that the charities were the chosen beneficiaries of Mrs Jackson.