The case of IIott v Mitson made national headlines in the summer of 2015 when the Court of Appeal decided that Heather IIott was entitled to receive £164,000 from her mother’s Estate (worth £486,000), despite her mother (Mrs Jackson) not making any provisions for Heather in her Will and making it clear that she specifically did not want Heather to receive any part of her inheritance.
The key background facts are:
- Heather and her mother became estranged after her mother disapproved of her boyfriend. Heather left home and eloped with her boyfriend. She later married and had five children with him.
- Heather stopped working when her children were born and lived off state benefits.
- Mrs Jackson died in 2004. She left nearly her entire Estate to three animal charities (despite having no connection with these charities during her lifetime).
- In 2007, Heather issued a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 in order to seek financial provision from her mother’s estate.
- Despite Heather giving evidence that she had not expected to receive anything from her mother, the court initially found in Heather’s favour on the basis that her mother had “unreasonably” excluded Heather. The judge awarded Heather £50,000.
- After a number of appeals, the Court of Appeal increased the amount awarded to Heather to £143,000 in order to allow Heather to purchase her home plus expenses and £20,000 to meet her income needs (total £164,000). The Court of Appeal referred to the trial judge’s comments that Mrs Jackson had acted in an “unreasonable, capricious and harsh way”.
The three charities have now just been granted permission to appeal the Court of Appeal's decision to the Supreme Court.
The key points the Supreme Court will need to decide upon are:
- Whether the Court of Appeal was wrong to set aside the trial judge's decision to initially only award £50,000.
- Whether the Court of Appeal was wrong in how it decided the appropriate ‘maintenance standard’.
- Whether the Court of Appeal was wrong to frame its judgement in a manner that allowed Heather to retain her state benefits, despite the total award of £164,000.
This case has generated a lot of debate as to the court’s powers to vary a Will, the role that ‘expectation’ plays in determining Inheritance Act claims and the competing needs of the disputing parties.
This case is highly fact-specific, but unless the Supreme Court overturns the Court of Appeals decision, it is clear that the court will consider claims by adult children to vary a Will to ensure that adequate provision is made for close relatives, irrespective of the wishes of the deceased.
There is no single factor that will determine the success of a claim like IIott v Mitson as the court must adopt a very careful balancing exercise to consider all of the factors. The question is, how will the Supreme Court now judge that balancing exercise – on the side of Heather or on the side of the three charities?