Supreme Court rules in favour of animal charities in Will challenge

By Lenore Rice

The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of three animal charities who had challenged the decision of the Court of Appeal to award £160,000 to a woman who was left out of her estranged mother's Will.

Melita Jackson had written a Will that left the majority of her £486,000 estate to three animal charities - the Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Her estranged daughter, Heather Ilott, contested the Will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for "reasonable financial provision". That legislation allows children of deceased parents to apply for an order if reasonable provision has not been made for them in the Will.

Mrs Ilott was an unemployed mother-of-five with no pension, living on state benefits. She was initially awarded £50,000 from the estate by a district judge in 2007, but the Court of Appeal subsequently increased this to £160,000. The charities appealed that decision and the case went to the Supreme Court, saying they wanted to "affirm the importance of testamentary freedom."

Lord Hughes said that the Court of Appeal should have given more weight to Mrs Jackson's wishes, which were clearly laid out in her Will, and the good work that the charities would do with the money. He said that the "charities were the chosen beneficiaries of the deceased" and "did not have to justify a claim on the basis of need under the 1975 Act." He also signalled that the Supreme Court were prepared to protect gifts made to charities in Wills, saying that they "depend heavily on testamentary bequests for their work, which is by definition of public benefit and in many cases will be for demonstrably humanitarian purposes."

The original order was restored and Mrs Ilott will receive the sum of £50,000.

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