The case of Illot v The Blue Cross has been keenly watched by legal practitioners advising on the entitlement of family members cut from a will. Hitherto, it was thought that an adult
beneficiary of his or her own means could not successfully invoke the Inheritance Act 1975 in order to ask the court to review the adequacy of the will. The 1975 Act assists those for whom the will makes no adequate provision and is traditionally invoked by those financially dependent on the deceased at death.
In this case the mother and daughter had not spoken for years and the daughter was of very limited means but not reliant on her mother. The mother cut her out of the will and left her estate to charity.
The daughter had an income of £20,000 and lived in a Council house.
The case was heard by a District Judge who awarded her £50,000 for her living expenses to replace worn out furniture and take family holidays.
Both sides appealed, the daughter, for more, and the charity, for the order to be overturned and substituted with no award.
The case went through appeals to the High Court, Court of Appeal and finally the Supreme Court who restored the Order of the District Judge who had initially ordered the estate to provide £50,000 to the daughter.
The reasoning of the Supreme Court was as follows;
A) What is reasonable is a value judgment to be made by the judge who hears the evidence.
B) Awards should not be made to reward good behaviour and awards should not be withheld to punish estrangement
especially when estrangement can often involve both sides.
C) The charities did not need to justify their claims – they were the named beneficiaries of the deceased.
D) Ordinarily awards are limited to maintenance of recurring living costs; only spouses and civil partners should have an expectation of more.
E) Where a Claimant is in receipt of State Benefits, it is a relevant factor to consider the effect on those benefits of the making of an award.
F) The order of the original judge to hear the case should be overturned only if the judge made a mistake of principle or a mistake of law and he/she has a very wide ambit of discretion to apply the various factors set out in the 1975 Act.