Peter Pybus, Solicitor at Mogers Drewett looks at a common question about making a Will that has a more complicated answer than most people realise.
‘Can I leave my estate to anyone I choose?’ is a question I get asked from time to time. But as a recent high profile Court of Appeal decision illustrates, things are not always as cut and dried as you might think.
Melita Jackson died in 2004 and left her estate (worth £486,000) to three charities – the RSPCA, RSPB and the Blue Cross – and in doing so she excluded her daughter Heather Ilott. In a letter of wishes, Melita Jackson explained this was “because (as) my daughter left me with no explanation and made no attempt to reconcile with me, I feel as though I have no moral or financial obligation to provide for her. If my daughter should bring a claim I instruct my executors to defend such a claim.” Mother and daughter had become estranged after Heather eloped aged 17 with the man who is still her husband.
By the time of her mother’s death, Heather was in her 50’s with five children and had not worked for 25 years, and her husband’s employment prospects were affected by his bad back. She made a claim against the estate on the basis that she had been unreasonably excluded, and in 2007 was awarded the sum of £50,000. She appealed to the High Court for a larger sum, which was challenged by the charities and the original decision was reversed. Now, eleven years after her mother’s death she has been awarded £164,000, which will be enough to allow her to buy her Housing Association home. It was noted that Mrs Jackson had no affiliations with the charities that benefitted under her Will, and Heather Ilott’s financial position appears to have been precarious, which may have been a factor in the judge’s decision.
Opinions will be divided as to whether this was the correct decision, but for me this illustrates the positive reasons why you should make a Will and give very careful thought as to whom should benefit. Making a Will gives you an opportunity to revisit your relationships, and perhaps put disagreements into perspective and enable you to effect a reconciliation. Making a Will can be a force for good and your final act can be one of kindness. After all, as Dorothea says in Middlemarch “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”
There will still be cases where it is entirely understandable that parents will wish to exclude children from their Wills. Children can still be ‘disinherited’, but you must explain why you have done so, and also why you have left your estate to the people or institutions that you have. However, this ruling makes it easier for adult children whose claims in the past were tenuous to challenge Wills which they believe have not provided them with reasonable financial provision.
At Mogers Drewett, we will be able to guide you through the process of making or reviewing your Will and to ensure that whatever decision you come to, it is fully documented so that your wishes stand the best possible chance of being respected after your death.