Disinheritance – minimising claims against your estate

Cutting people out of your Will can result in them getting more than you planned.

Colin Johnston v Lady Natalie Wackett’s recent case has acted as a reminder of how funds within an estate can be reduced when a claim is made against it. Not only by a court judge’s decision but also with the costs and time involved in advancing such a claim.

Mr Johnston had two sons, Gary (who sadly passed before him) and Colin. Johnston’s Will left his estate to Gary’s daughter Lady Natalie – Colin received nothing. As the only surviving son of Mr Johnston, Colin  made a claim under the Inheritance Provision for Family and Dependants (IPFD) Act. The judge ruled that Colin was entitled to £125,000 out of an estate valued in the region of £2.4 million (although after expenses, worth £1.4 million).

The judge considered evidence of as far back as 1976, which revealed how long ago Mr Johnston had made the decision to disfavour Colin for Gary.

The lengthy process of inheritance claims

Ilott vs Miston’s high profile case emerged from a petition for fair compensation under the Inheritance Act. The claim was made by her daughter, Mrs Heather Ilott, who had been estranged from her mother 26 years prior to her death.

Mrs Jackson passed away in 2004, leaving her Will with a letter written two years earlier detailing why she had disinherited her daughter and how she wanted to leave almost all of her estate to three charities of her choice.

When Mrs Ilott made a claim against her mother’s estate, the Court of Appeal overruled the initial judge’s decision and said Mrs Ilott was entitled to a share of her mother’s estate and awarded her £50,000. Following her first award, she returned to court to argue for a larger share, she was then awarded a sum of £164,000 to purchase her housing association property and supplement her income from the state.

At this point, the charities decided to intervene and made a claim against Mrs Ilott. The charities won their Supreme Court challenge, resulting in Mrs Ilott’s sum being reduced to the original £50,000. This whole process took over 10 years.

Guidance on Provision for Family and Dependants (IPFD) Act 1975

Disinheritance cases are not uncommon and there is little guidance provided by the courts on how they weigh up claims against an estate. There is also no information regarding awards being formulated in a beneficial or tax-efficient way for the claimant.

It is for this reason that serious consideration should always be given to the Inheritance Provision for Family and Dependants (IPFD) Act 1975 when making a Will, in particular when there is the likelihood of the testator (the person making the Will) leaving out beneficiaries, such as children or dependants, cohabitees and previous spouses who are able to make a claim against an estate.

Your Solicitor can help

By instructing a Solicitor to draw up a legally valid Will ensures that the IPFD will be accounted for in such situations, and minimises the likelihood of a successful claim being made against your estate after you’re gone.

Donnelly & Elliott offers a free no-obligation call to those who wish to discuss their Will or want to know more about disinheritance. Call a member of our Wills, Trust and Probate team on 02392 50 55 00 or email enqs@donnelly-elliott.co.uk