12 / 07 / 2017

Two contentious probate cases have recently caught the press’s attention: Ilott v The Blue Cross and Martin v Williams.

In Ilott, an estranged daughter was claiming a share in her mother’s estate that had otherwise been left by Will to charities. In Martin, a cohabiting partner was challenging her deceased partner’s Will that left everything to his wife from whom he had separated, but not divorced.

The decision of the Supreme Court in Ilott was to award the daughter approximately £50,000 from the £486,000 net estate. This was substantially less than the previous Court of Appeal decision and means that charities, among others, can start to breathe a sigh of relief that a testator’s wishes will be given their full and proper weight as far as possible, even if a charity benefitssat the expense of family.

The appeal decision in Martin was to award the claimant a life interest in her deceased partner’s share of their property, meaning the claimant could remain living there for the rest of her life, after which half the capital value would pass to the estranged wife. The previous decision had been to give the claimant the full capital value.

The courts in both cases have given the claimants less than they hoped to receive. In these types of claim, the court limits their award to what the claimant needs for “maintenance” only. The Martin case in particular emphasised that “maintenance” is primarily interpreted as an income need as opposed to capital.

The cases are sharp reminders of the need to keep your Will under regular review, and also to give consideration to those who may feel they should benefittfrom your estate. If you are leaving the bulk of your estate to charity at the expense of family, it can help avoid a challenge if you demonstrate your commitment to those charities in a side-letter to the Will and explain your reasons for excluding family. In relation to cohabiting partners, there is no automatic legal entitlement for a surviving partner to receive an inheritance, so a Will is of vital importance. Although an inheritance claim can be made, this is usually costly, time-consuming and anxiety-provoking, and can often be avoided by taking pre-emptive action when drafting your Will.