This is not new Law
None of this is new law. But it is inevitable that this high profile victory for Heather Ilott – albeit one which sees her receiving just over 1/3 of her late mother’s estate – will encourage further challenges to Wills which seek to disinherit family members, particularly if there is no connection between a testator and the charity which has benefited from a windfall legacy. A costs order has yet to be made but will be considerable: Melita Jackson’s insistence that her executors defend to the hilt any attempt by her daughter to contest the Will will already have eroded the value of her estate, and so now the charities themselves face a smaller residual legacy and their own costs bill. There may be a further appeal to the Supreme Court, but I would suspect that the charities will take a view on the reputational as well as financial damage they risk in prolonging a dispute which has run since 2004 and, arguably, since the estrangement in 1978.
Where does this leave testamentary capacity? Much as it was before – the award made in this case turns on its own facts, and does not represent any further curtailment of one’s freedom to leave one’s estate as one pleases, so we should all still be making Wills.
Think ahead and think carefully
However, I would encourage those who do wish to exclude family members from their Wills to leave contemporaneous evidence of their reasoning not only to exclude a particular beneficiary, but also to favour other beneficiaries. This is particularly important if, in the case of charities, the testator has no connection with, or history of donations to, charity during their lifetime. I have been instructed on a number of cases where we have done just that by way of a side letter, to try to avoid the washing of too much dirty linen during probate, a process which makes Wills public. And those asked to act as executors should always check whether they are risking accepting a poisoned chalice that may compel their involvement in a protracted legal battle. As in this case, that may, sadly, become the testator’s most enduring legacy.
Alexandra Truesdale MIPW
Alex Truesdale Wills Limited | Registered in England and Wales no 7275445 | Registered office: 27 Mizen Close Cobham Surrey KT11 2RJ
Alex Truesdale Wills Limited is a member of the Institute of Professional Willwriters and complies with its Code of Practice
You can read more articles about Pensions, Wealth Management, Retirement, Investments, Financial Planning and Estate Planning on my blog which gets updated every week. If you would like to talk to me about your personal wealth planning and how we can make you stay wealthier for longer then please get in touch by calling 08000 736 273 or email email@example.com