Three animal charities have won a Supreme Court battle against a woman who was left out of her estranged mother’s will.
Heather Ilott was awarded more than £160,000 by the Court of Appeal in 2015 after her mother, Melita Jackson, left most of her £486,000 estate to charities.
Supreme Court justices overturned that decision on Wednesday, ruling that an order made by a district judge in 2007, that the sum should be £50,000, should be “restored”.
IIlott, a mother-of-five from Great Munden, Hertfordshire, who has no pension and lived on state benefits, went to court and was originally awarded £50,000 from the estate, but Court of Appeal judges later more than tripled the sum.
The Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals argued that the appeal judges “fell into error’’ when deciding to increase the maintenance payout, which included £143,000 for Ilott to buy her housing association home.
In a joint statement released after today’s verdict, the charities said: “We are pleased that the Supreme Court has given welcome reassurance that - save in limited and specific circumstances – the wishes recorded in a person’s will must be respected.
“Blue Cross, RSPCA and RSPB and the charitable sector as a whole, rely on generous gifts left in wills, without which much of their valuable work could not be done.
“This judgement will allow us to continue to honour the wishes of individuals who choose to remember charities in their will.”
James Aspden, a partner at Wilsons Solicitors who represented the three charities, said in a separate statement: “The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling confirms, very clearly, that we are in general free to choose who will inherit our property when we die.
“It clears up a number of points where the law had become uncertain and will enable people drafting wills to give clearer advice to their clients.
“The most important message it sends is that your wishes matter and that if you choose to record those wishes in a will, they will be listened to.”
A panel of seven Supreme Court justices, headed by president Lord Neuberger, were urged at a hearing last year to overturn the Court of Appeal ruling and either make an “appropriate’’ order for Ilott’s “provision’’, or restore the district judge’s original order.
The court said in announcing the decision: “The order of the Court of Appeal should be set aside and the order of the district judge restored.
“This court was told that this appeal was brought by the charities largely on principle because of the possible impact of the decision below (by the Court of Appeal) on other cases, and that some arrangement has been arrived at between these parties in the event that the appeal succeeded.”
Only child Ilott was rejected by her mother at the age of 17 after she left home without her knowledge or agreement in 1978 to live with her boyfriend, Nicholas Ilott, whom she later married.
Attempts at reconciliation failed and when 70-year-old Jackson died in 2004 her will made no provision for her daughter.
Ilott, who is in her 50s, made an application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for “reasonable financial provision’’ from her mother’s estate.
The Act confers the right on a child of a deceased parent to apply for an order if a will does not make reasonable provision for their maintenance.
It is the first time an appeal under the 1975 Act has reached the Supreme Court.