Daughter takes charities to court over mum's will and wins
Charities say they are concerned about the future of legacy giving after a family member successfully challenged a widow’s will left to three animal welfare groups.
England’s Court of Appeal ruled that £164,000 of a £500,000 legacy left to the Blue Cross, RSPCA, and RSPB should belong to Heather Ilott, daughter of the woman who bequeathed the cash.
It follows a 10 year long legal battle after Ilott’s mother, Melita Jackson, died in 2004, aged 70, leaving all her assets to the three charities.
In 2007 Ilott was awarded £50,000 by a county court on the grounds that her mother had been “unreasonable, capricious and harsh” towards her daughter.
She challenged the will further but in 2011 an appeal ruled that the sum was sufficient.
Then in 2013 the three charities challenged the £50,000 award and won – only for that ruling to be overturned and the new sum of £164,000 awarded.
A statement on behalf of the three charities aid: “Charities rely upon income from legacies and the outcome of this case could have serious ramifications for the future of the charity sector as a whole,” it read.
This court decision goes against a person’s desire to give their money to whomever they wish
Much of their work would not be possible without legacy income, the statement added.
Solicitor James Aspden, acting on behalf of the three charities, said the ruling raised “serious questions".
“This is a worrying decision for anyone who values having the freedom to choose who will receive their property when they die," he said.
“The decision to allow this very late, further appeal against a Judgment delivered in 2007 can only encourage others to appeal and will further complicate the court’s task when deciding Inheritance Act claims.”
In a letter written left shortly before her death, Jackson confirmed her intention not to leave anything to her daughter.
“If my daughter should bring a claim against my estate I instruct my executors to defend such a claim as I can see no reason why my daughter should benefit in any way from my estate.
“I have made it clear to my daughter during her lifetime that she can expect no inheritance from me when I die”, she wrote.
Apparently a rift had developed after Ilott married at the age of 17, something her mother never forgave her for.
David Bowles, assistant director external affairs of RSPCA, said legacy income was vital and supported as many as two out of three animals it saved.
“Without it, much of our work would not be possible,” he said.
“This court decision goes against a person’s desire to give their money to whomever they wish. We are immensely grateful for the kindness of people like Mrs Jackson who choose to remember the needs of animals in her will and hope this does not stop others continuing to give money to help suffering animals.”