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Win for charities in Inheritance case ruling

5.05.2017

It was her estranged daughter Mrs Heather Ilot who had challenged the Will. The mother and daughter had disagreed of Heather’s choice of husband and the estrangement lasted 25 years until Mrs Jackson’s death in 2004. Since then, the case has dragged on through the lower courts for a number of years until it’s conclusion in March 2017.

According to Lady Hale in Para 49 of the ruling, the case ‘raises some profound questions about the nature of family obligations, the relationship between family obligations and the state, and the relationship between the freedom of property owners to dispose of their property as they see fit and their duty to fulfil their family obligations. All are raised by the facts of this case but none is answered by the legislation which we have to apply or by the work of the Law Commission which led to it’.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court decision is seen by many to have bolstered the principle of testamentary freedom, the right for people to choose who should benefit from their estate after they die, something for which Lady Hale noted there is ‘strong emotional support’ in society, and which is ‘linked to ideas of individualism and human rights’.

The Supreme Court has also highlighted the public benefit in charities being gifted monies, and this will no doubt enable testators to remain a little more confident that their wishes will indeed be respected after their death.

However, as the law stands in its current form, the risk remains for those of us administering estates of there being claims made from individuals, who have been expressly disinherited by the deceased. 

What will no doubt happen again unless the law is changed, is that there will continue to be misery for those who have recently lost loved ones, through them being denied closure and being compelled to engage in costly and potentially protracted litigation. 

It is therefore better to take steps to ensure your final wishes are clearly communicated to all potential beneficiaries when you make your Will, to help avoid this situation arising in the future.

Alex Astley can be reached at [email protected] 

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