Beds, Herts & Bucks

Animal charities lose in woman disinheritance appeal

A woman has won a court battle for a share of her mother's £486,000 estate which she had left to animal charities.

Heather Ilott, 50, of Great Munden, Hertfordshire, fell out with her mother Melita Jackson after leaving home when she was 17.

Mrs Illot challenged the will of her mother, who died aged 70 in 2004, and was awarded £50,000 in 2007.

That ruling was reversed before Appeal Court judges ruled she was entitled to a share of the money.

'Out of spite'

In 2002, Mrs Jackson made her last will with a letter to explain why she had disinherited her only daughter, referring to the fact that she had walked out of her home in 1978 to live with her boyfriend.

She instead left everything to the RSPCA, RSPB and the Blue Cross animal welfare charity.

Mrs Ilott challenged the will, claiming "reasonable provision" from her mother's estate.

She was awarded the £50,000 but that was later reversed by a High Court judge and she was left with nothing.

However, the Appeal Court has now ruled she is entitled to a share of the money.

Mrs Justice Black, sitting with President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall and Lady Justice Arden, said it had been "unreasonable" of Mrs Jackson to cut her daughter out of her will in favour of charities to which she had no prior connection.

The ruling means Mrs Ilott can now return to the High Court for a bigger payout from her mother's estate.

The court was told Mrs Ilott, who has five children, lives largely on benefits in a housing association home.

Earlier Mrs Ilott's barrister, John Collins, argued Mrs Jackson's decision to disinherit her daughter was not because she supported any of the charities "but out of spite".

Floodgates opened

Lawyers for the animal charities argued that Mrs Ilott and her husband made a number of "lifestyle choices" which had left them in financial difficulty.

They told the court that Mrs Ilott had managed to live completely independently of her mother for 26 years and could not now expect maintenance.

James Aspden, a solicitor representing the three charities, said his clients were hugely disappointed at the ruling.

He said: "The Court of Appeal has re-interpreted 30 years of law and left in its place a lack of clear guidance, which creates further uncertainty about a person's right to leave money to people or organisations of their choice."

Kim Hamilton, chief executive of Blue Cross, said: "We rely on the generosity of our loyal supporters who leave us legacies to provide for many thousands of animals in need.

"We are therefore deeply concerned about the impact of this judgement on our future income as it opens the floodgates to legal challenges from any aggrieved relative who, for whatever reason, has been left out of someone's will."

David Bowles, from the RSPCA, said: "Legacy income pays for one out of every two animals we save and, without it, much of our work would not be possible.

"We are immensely grateful for the kindness of people like Mrs Jackson who chose to remember the needs of animals in her will."

The charities said they were continuing to take legal advice on the matter.

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