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Being reasonable is key to challenging a parent’s Will, says St James’s Place

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A Court of Appeal decision to overrule a mother’s decision to disinherit her daughter and leave all her money to animal charities may encourage more disputes over Wills that exclude adult children, according to Tony Müdd (pictured), divisional director at St James’s Place.  

“The question that the courts will consider is not whether the deceased ought to have left money to a child, but whether the provision (or lack of it) was reasonable in the light of the facts“, says Müdd.
 
“A parent still has no obligation to leave any part of their estate to their children – unlike in, say, most of Europe”, he added, “but the Inheritance Provision for Family and Dependents Act 1975 now requires courts to look favourably on applications by adult children in certain circumstances. These include where the applicant suffers from some form of disability; was financially dependent on the deceased; or will face financial difficulties if little or no provision is made.”
 
Müdd points out that will disputes are expensive and, quite apart from the costs, can greatly increase family tensions: “You should make sure that your Will is properly drafted and executed by a qualified and experienced individual”, advises Müdd. “Try to avoid disinheriting anyone who could contest the Will under the Act but, if you still wish to, be very clear as to the reasons and document them. Be sure to understand the implications for other family members or beneficiaries.”
 
“Remember too that gifts made into a trust during the donor’s lifetime can’t be contested under the Act, and so may be a safer way of disinheriting, rather than using a Will,” he adds.
 
The Court of Appeal ruling on 26 July related to Melita Jackson, who made her last Will in 2002, leaving nothing to her only child, Heather Ilott. As she was careful to explain in a letter accompanying the Will, she disinherited Heather because she had never forgiven her for leaving home at 17 with her boyfriend, whom she later married. After Mrs Jackson died in 2004, her not inconsiderable estate of GBP468,000 was divided among three animal charities, for whom she cared little.
 
Mrs Ilott challenged the Will in 2007 and was awarded GBP50,000 after a district judge decided she had been “unreasonably” excluded by Mrs Jackson. After some judicial to-ing and fro-ing, the Court of Appeal more than tripled that to GBP164,000, to allow Mrs Ilott to buy the home she was renting from a housing association.

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