One of the region’s leading will dispute lawyers has warned that the right of people to leave assets to whom they wish has been ‘seriously eroded’ following a landmark legal ruling.
Specialist Robert Weston has spoken out following the Court of Appeal’s controversial ruling to award £164,000 to a poverty-stricken daughter who was carved out of her mother’s will in favour of three animal welfare charities.
54-year-old Heather IIott , from Hertfordshire, has been granted the payment after an eight-year court battle which found that her estranged 70-year-old mother Melita Jackson left her £500,000 estate to the trio of charities when she died in 2004, stating that she did not want her only child, now a mother of five, to receive a penny.
Now Mr Weston, partner and head of the contentious probate team at Midland law firm mfg Solicitors, has warned that the decision will mean an upturn in the number of adult children challenging wills if they don’t believe their parents have made reasonable financial provision – especially if they are in poor financial circumstances.
He said: “The court has ruled that Ms IIott’s mother did not leave ‘reasonable provision’ for her in the will and because of that she was facing a life of financial desperation on basic benefits. I think that without a doubt this will lead to an increase in these types of cases coming to court.
“Although parents can still disinherit their children, now more than ever they will need a watertight argument and be able to prove their links with organisations such as charities who they choose to provide for instead of providing for their children.
“Aside from the long-term implications this decision may have on the charity sector, more than anything, the huge profile of this case should show people how important it is to instruct a professional to prepare and advise on their will. It is an vital document which all too often brings unnecessary heartbreak to families and relatives if it is not professionally drafted.”
In 2007 a county court first awarded Ms IIott £50,000 on the grounds that her mother had acted in an “unreasonable, capricious and harsh” way to her daughter. In 2011 the Court of Appeal decided that sum was insufficient which then kicked-off the second phase of legal proceedings.
The deceased left her estate to the RSPCA, RSPB, and Blue Cross animal charities after her death. The court found that she had no connection with the charities during her lifetime. Nearly £2bn a year goes to charity through legacies.
Mr Weston, who has led a number of successful High Court contentious probate cases, can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org. Mr Weston is recognised in the Legal 500 as one of the country’s top will dispute solicitors.