No excuses, get your Will updated!
The recent Ilott case, heard by the Supreme Court, makes it clear that there is no room for complacency when it comes to ensuring you have a valid Will that reflects your current wishes. A recent survey found that a quarter of the UK population has never thought about writing a Will and a similar number think that they are too poor to have one. Wednesday’s Supreme Court judgement in the Ilott Case provided the clarity that professionals have been seeking for over a decade. It also de-bunked one excuse for not having a valid Will – that there was no point as it could be challenged.
Heather Ilott challenged her late mother’s Will which deliberately excluded her in favour of three animal charities that she had no prior connection with during her lifetime. Heather was an only child and estranged from her mother, Mrs Melita Jackson, and brought her case under The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. The Court considered the nature of family obligations and the relationship between the freedom of property owners to dispose of their property as they see fit. A letter of wishes had been left, which clearly explained Mrs Jackson’s actions. This is the first case under the 1975 Act decided at Supreme Court level and Heather Ilott lost her case.
The decision confirms that, while families can challenge valid Wills under the 1975 Act, all factors need to be considered – not just the financial need of the claimant, or the fact that the chosen beneficiaries were charities for whom personal need was not an issue. The clear message is that the only way to ensure that your personal property is passed on in accordance with your wishes is to have a valid Will in place, otherwise your assets pass under the laws of intestacy. This means that children could inherit and those not legally married will have to revert to the Courts to obtain financial support. If Mrs Jackson had not written a Will, her entire Estate would have passed to Heather, irrespective of her stated wishes.
Anyone with children or dependent relatives should ensure that they have a valid Will, so that any support they provide can continue after their passing. Any changes in circumstances such as marriage, divorce or the birth of children should trigger a review of existing Wills to ensure that they meet current wishes and make use of all available reliefs, exemptions and allowances. Older Wills may be overly complicated and structured to ensure the nil rate band is available to both spouses, but since the advent of the transferable nil rate band, many Wills can in fact be simplified. Another recent change is the recent introduction of the residence nil rate band – to benefit requires property to be passed to direct descendants and not into trust.