Ilott v Mitson: Supreme Court verdict

Decorated stone court front

The outcome of this long running case, by unanimous decision of the Supreme Court, restates the fundamental rule of law that a testator has testamentary freedom.

This judgment has been hotly anticipated as the case concerned an estranged adult daughter who had been disinherited in favour of charities. She succeeded at first instance in receiving an award of £50,000 in respect of a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. Unhappy with this award as it would deprive her of her means tested benefits, the claimant appealed and received an increased award of £143,000 for her reasonable financial provision to enable her to buy her house and an option to receive a further £20,000.  The charities appealed to the Supreme Court.

The headline question for the court, ultimately, was did the court have the power to interfere with the mother’s decision to disinherit her estranged daughter? In allowing the appeal the Supreme Court emphasised that awards to adult children should be limited to maintenance. The court noted that the legislative choice in this respect had been deliberate and was important.  Accordingly, any award is not determined by the applicant’s needs.  In determining the assessment of damages, in this case it was noted that the decision made might be coloured by the mother and daughter’s estrangement.


What can we learn from this case?

  • Financial provision is an assessment of maintenance not need.  
  • This is not crystal clear. In fact, Lady Hale noted in her judgment that the present law is unsatisfactory as it lacks guidance as to the factors to be taken into account in deciding if a claimant is deserving, or undeserving, of reasonable maintenance.
  • The legislation is not a means to challenge a testator’s testamentary freedom.

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Senior Associate, Dispute Resolution and Litigation, Cambridge office

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