The End of Testamentary Freedom?
A recent Court of Appeal decision to award an estranged daughter £164,000 from her late mother’s estate after she was left out of the Will, has brought into question whether the principle of full testamentary freedom remains in this country. It is a far reaching decision condemned by charities concerned that it could deter Testators from leaving legacies in their Wills to charity.
In her Will Mrs Jackson left her estate of £500,000 to three animal charities: RSPB, RSPCA and Blue Cross. Not only did she leave nothing to her daughter, Heather Ilott, having fallen out with her when she eloped as a young woman, but she instructed her Executors to fight any claim made by her daughter, and this they did. However, they were unsuccessful. Mrs Ilott, a mother of five with very limited financial means, was originally awarded £50,000 from her mother’s estate but the Judges in the Court of Appeal granted her a third of the estate on the grounds that Mrs Ilott had not been given “reasonable financial provision” in the Will. Furthermore, the Judges commented that she was deprived of any expectation under the Will because Mrs Jackson had acted in an “unreasonable and capricious way towards her child”.
The outcome of this case could have serious ramifications for the charity sector in the future. Charities rely heavily on gifts of legacies and residue from wills to fund their work. It is therefore highly likely the charities will appeal the decision.
Clearly it is no longer sufficient to make one’s wishes perfectly clear in a will as Mrs Jackson did, writing “I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate. I have made it clear to my daughter….. that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die”. Notwithstanding such clear and emphatic instructions, the Court redirected monies from the estate to her daughter.
As can be seen from the facts of this family’s history and the case, it now raises serious questions about whether people do really have the freedom to choose who they want to leave their money to in their Will.General, George Ide, Private Client, Wills and Probate