The government has recently said that lawyers need to do more pro bono work which most of us already do in one form or another. In a number of situations this work can deliver real benefits as ably demonstrated in the recent case of Ilott-v-Mitson where the claimant in a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 was represented by two barristers from the Bar Pro Bono Unit.
Mrs Ilottâ’s claim under the Inheritance Act has gone through something of a roller coaster ride. Prior to her mother’s death Mrs Ilott had been estranged from her for some 26 years. Her mother left an estate worth £486,000 largely to three charities.
Before the first judge she was awarded £50,000. She appealed saying that that was not enough and the three charities then appealed on the basis that she should have got nothing. The second judge dealing with the appeal sided with the charities and gave her nothing. She then appealed again. The Court of Appeal the first time said that an original decision in an Inheritance Act claim should only be set aside on appeal if it is plainly wrong. The decision to give Mrs Ilott £50,000 was not plainly wrong and shouldn’t have been overturned but if the second judge had dealt with the case first and had awarded Mrs Ilott nothing that would not have been plainly wrong either! Confused!?
This still left open the question of whether the £50,000 which she had been awarded initially was the correct figure. The first judge dealing with the reconsideration of that issue agreed with the figure of £50,000 but the Court of Appeal (the second time) have now overturned that decision. Mrs Ilott has now been awarded £143,000 as the costs of buying a property plus the costs of acquisition plus the option to draw down a further £20,000 from the estate. Overall therefore it appears that she has been awarded about a third of the overall estate. The assessment of the value of the case was complicated by the impact of state benefits on the claimant financial position and how that would be impacted by any capital award.
The charities position quoting from a 1980’s case seems largely to have been that “an Englishman still remains at liberty at his death to dispose of his own property in whatever way he pleases”. Clearly however parliament has decided that that principle is still trumped by the ability of the courts to ensure in appropriate cases that even in the case of an adult child, reasonable financial provision can still be made despite the provisions in the will.
These cases are very fact sensitive and require expert advice and assistance