Defending legacy claims
To those who value topicality, I say sometimes the old ones are the best. In 2017, legal practitioners waited with baited breath for the Supreme Court’s take on Illot-v-Mitson, an estranged daughter’s claim for reasonable financial provision out of her late mother’s estate. The estrangement had lasted for the better part of 26 years and so no provision had been made for the daughter in the will. Instead the deceased (Mrs Jackson) had left her estate to charities.
A district judge awarded the daughter, Mrs Illot, £50,000. This was taken to the Court of Appeal, who awarded Mrs Ilott £143,000 to buy the house she lived in. At that time you could almost hear the sound of claimants and their legal representatives rubbing their hands together as, previously, claims by adult children usually required something more, a certain X-Factor, or “a moral claim”, as per In re. Coventry (decased), 1980.
The Supreme Court in Illot-v-The Blue Cross and others  restored the original order of the court. This returned the law to pretty much as it was in the Coventry case, although assessing the chances and potential outcomes of claims is still more of an art than a science. So it appears that Illot-v-Mitson has been relegated to the status of a footnote, and so a blow was struck for the principle of testamentary freedom. The law will not allow on every occasion the adult claimant child’s needs to trump the testator’s choice to make a gift to a favourite charity. As if to emphasise the point Lady Hale referred to “the public interest in charitable giving and the importance of legacies in the funding of charitable activities.”
For a charity beneficiary defending such a claim may ultimately come down to costs and discretion being the better part of valour. The chances of an early resolution or settlement by a charity on a cost-effective basis are greatly increased by engaging a specialist in inheritance claims.