Charities in Supreme Court battle over payout to woman left out of mother's will

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Charities go to the UK's highest court today in a battle over a payout to a daughter who was left out of her mother's will.

Supreme Court justices in London are being asked to rule on the latest round of a long-running legal fight which began after Heather Ilott's late mother Melita Jackson left the majority of her £486,000 estate to three animal charities.

Only child Mrs 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, who she later married.

Attempts at reconciliation failed and when 70-year-old Mrs Jackson died in 2004 her will made no provision for her estranged daughter.

After most of the estate was left to The Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, mother-of-five Mrs Ilott, who has no pension and was on state benefits, went to court.

Mrs Ilott, from Great Munden, Hertfordshire, 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.

She was originally awarded £50,000 in 2007 after a judge concluded she had been ''unreasonably'' excluded from the will.

District Judge Clive Million said Mrs Ilott's financial circumstances were ''straitened and needy'', and concluded that her exclusion from the will had been unfair - deciding that the ''appropriate provision'' from the estate was £50,000.

Mrs Ilott challenged the size of the award, and three Court of Appeal judges in London increased it to a six-figure sum in July last year.

The award was for £143,000 to buy her housing association home, plus the "amount of the reasonable costs of acquisition". 

Lady Justice Arden, who announced the court's decision, said: "I would additionally award her an option to take a further maximum capital sum of £20,000 to provide an immediate capital sum from which further income needs can be met. I have expressed the award in these terms in order to preserve her state benefits."

A panel of seven Supreme Court justices, headed by president Lord Neuberger, will hear a challenge against that 2015 ruling by the three charities during a one-day hearing.

The judges are being asked to rule on five issues relating to the Court of Appeal's findings under the 1975 Act.

Paula Myers, head of the will trust and estate disputes team at law firm Irwin Mitchell, said of the Court of Appeal decision: "The ruling potentially made it easier for adult children who have been left out of wills to challenge them if they have not been left a reasonable provision and we have seen a rise in inquiries from people who feel that they have been unfairly disinherited."