Testamentary Freedom Reaffirmed in the Supreme Court

13 Dec 2017

The case now known as Ilott v The Blue Cross [2017] UKSC 17 was the first time that the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 was considered at the highest judicial level. The Court of Appeal ([2015] EWCA Civ 797, noted [2016] C.L.J. 31) had significantly enhanced the award given to an estranged and “disinherited” but needy daughter (Heather Ilott) at the expense of the charities (the Blue Cross, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) who were the principal beneficiaries under her mother (Melita Jackson)’s will, leaving her with £143,000 out of the £486,000 estate primarily to purchase the council house in which she and her family were living. The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the charities’ appeal, restoring Judge Million’s original £50,000 order. Giving the lead judgment, Lord Hughes reasserted the centrality of testamentary freedom in English Law, emphasised the importance of the Act’s limitation to “reasonable financial provision” for maintenance for non-spouse/civil partner applicants (s. 1(2)(b)), and held that a need for maintenance was a necessary but not sufficient condition for a successful claim. He approved previous case law in holding that maintenance could not “extend to any or every thing which it would be desirable for the claimant to have” ([14]), but was not limited to “subsistence” either ([15]). He also confirmed that the focus of the correct test under the 1975 Act is not on the behaviour of the testatrix, but opined the reasonableness of her decision may still be a significant consideration, as may the extent of any “moral claim” even if that is not a “sine qua non” ([20]).