The Court of Appeal has confirmed that a widow broke the law by leaving her entire £489,000 estate to animal welfare charities and nothing to her daughter, to spite her.
Melita Jackson died in 2004 and, due to disagreements over her daughter Heather Ilott’s choice of husband, and the naming of one of the five children she had, left instructions that all her money should be given to the Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Her daughter Heather was to get nothing, and all attempts by her to claim anything were to be robustly resisted by the charities.
In 2007 Mrs Ilott challenged the will, asking for half of the money and was awarded £50,000. The three charities then used a specialist barrister and had the award overturned. Recently Mrs Ilott went back to court to argue that her mother had no prior connection as a donor with the charities, that the donations were made out of spite and that her mother had unlawfully made no reasonable provision for her daughter under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act. The Court of Appeal agreed and awarded her £165,000, with the issue of legal costs to be settled, so that she could buy a house instead of living in a rented Housing Association property.
The case has polarised opinion, with some maintaining that everyone should have the right to leave their money to whoever they wish, and others pointing out that the Appeal Court was justified, under the particular circumstances, to partly over-ride this right and balance it against the reasonable provision rule. It remains to be seen if the charities will now risk more of their donor’s money, and any reputation for being genuinely charitable themselves and appeal to the Supreme Court to improve the meagre £108,000 they will now each get to something nearer the £163,000 each in spite-money they thought they were going to. Seems to us like a no-brainer, since either amount is a useful one-off contribution to the annual salary of a chief executive of a large charity.
In 2009 a Leeds University lecturer, Dr Christine Gill, challenged her parent’s will that left their £2.4 million farm to the RSPCA. She won her case under the 1975 Inheritance Act. The RSPCA then challenged the court ruling and lost.
Meanwhile research from insurance company LV= indicates that 25% of retired people plan to SKI – Spend the Kid’s Inheritance – or leave their money to charity.