Following the well-publicised decision of the Supreme Court in Ilott – v – The Blue Cross and Others earlier this year lawyers dealing with Inheritance Act claims have been watching to see whether the court’s decision would have the effect of curtailing claims by adult children estranged from their parents for many years.
In the Ilott case the daughter had been estranged from her mother for 26 years. She and her husband rented from a housing association and were in receipt of some benefits. The deceased left her estate to charities with whom she had no great connection. Out of an estate worth in the region of £500,000 she was initially awarded £50,000. She appealed because she thought that that was too little and the charities appealed because they thought that she should get nothing.
The first judge dealing with the appeal agreed with the charities but when the Court of Appeal reviewed that decision they said that the original award should not have been set aside because it was not plainly wrong. On the other hand they said it would not have been plainly wrong to award her nothing. Are you with me so far?
The first judge dealing with the separate appeal as to the correct amount of her claim upheld the original order of £50,000 but on its second visit to the Court of Appeal they increased the award to £143,000. When the case then went to the Supreme Court, the original order of £50,000 was restored. In passing, it is perhaps worth noting that the deceased died in July 2004 and the case did not get to the Supreme Court until December 2016. One can only speculate what the overall costs bill was.
The Supreme Court spent some time trying to define what was meant by ‘maintenance’ since claims by children are limited to what is reasonable for them to receive for their maintenance. Whilst accepting that the concept was broad “it cannot extend to any or everything which it would be desirable for the claimant to have”. Quoting from an earlier case one judge said that ‘maintenance’ suggested “payments which, directly or indirectly, enable the applicant in the future to discharge the cost of his daily leaving at whatever standard of living is appropriate to him”.
Whilst the level of maintenance is flexible and needs to be assessed in each case, it is not limited to subsistence levels.
In a more recent case involving the estate of a Mr Nahajec worth in the region of £240,000 his estranged daughter was awarded £30,000 or effectively 1/8th of the estate. The deceased had disinherited all three of his children, leaving the whole of his estate to a friend. A claim by a half sibling had previously been settled for £22,000. In awarding the daughter £30,000 the judge referred to this as his best estimate of the capitalised cost of maintenance for a reasonable time going forward taking into account that the claimant might undertake a course which could result in her qualifying as a veterinary nurse.
It would seem that whilst such claims can still succeed they will perhaps be looked at more critically by judges than was perhaps the case in the past. However, once the first judge has made their judgement absent an obvious error of law, they may now be virtually un-appealable.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.