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Supreme Court rules in favour of charities in high-profile Will dispute

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A trio of animal charities this week won a landmark inheritance case at the Supreme Court.

The organisations had been left an estate worth hundreds of thousands of pounds by Melita Jackson, who passed away in 2004.

But Ms Jackson’s decision not to leave a penny of her money to her estranged daughter, Heather Ilott, had triggered a legal battle which has lasted more than a decade.

A district Judge had originally ruled that Mrs Ilott – who had been disowned by her mother after eloping as a teenager – should receive £50,000 of the money, a sum which was increased three-fold on appeal.

On that occasion, Judges had argued that Ms Jackson had “unreasonably excluded” her daughter, and said that the claimant had been left to face considerable financial hardship.

This decision prompted the three charities – the Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the RSPCA – to challenge the increase.

They had made the case that people should have the freedom to choose their beneficiaries and said they had continued to fight on “largely on principle”, because of the possible implications for a number of similar cases.

Yesterday, the highest court in the land ruled that Mrs Ilott should only receive the original sum of £50,000 from the estate, which was worth almost £500,000 in total.

In a joint statement, the charities said: “We are pleased that the Supreme Court has given welcome reassurance that – save in limited and specific circumstances – the wishes recorded in a person’s Will must be respected.”

A spokesman for Mrs Ilott said: “Heather is naturally very disappointed with the outcome of the Supreme Court judgment.

“Some of the Judges have found that the current law is unsatisfactory and this will no doubt raise broader questions in the future.”

Mrs Ilott had first challenged the Will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act in 2007 and the duration of the dispute had led some to compare it to the infamous Jarndyce and Jarndyce case from Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House.