Daughter wins 8 year long battle with Charities
28 July 2015 by Andrea Godfrey
Melita Jackson died in 2004 at the age of 70 leaving an estate of around £486,000. In her Will she left a £5000 gift and the balance of the estate was left to 3 charities (the RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross). Crucially, Mrs Jackson had no strong connections with these charities.
Melita had an only child, a daughter (Heather) for whom she made no provision in her Will. Heather had left home in the middle of the night when she was 17 to marry her childhood sweetheart. Heather’s father had died three months before Heather was born in an accident at work. His employers paid Mrs Jackson a large sum of money which enabled her to pay off her mortgage. There were 3 attempts to reconcile their differences but to no avail and mother and daughter spent most of the last 26 years estranged.
Mrs Jackson left letters with her Will explaining why she had disinherited her daughter. She even wrote to Heather herself and told her she had not left her anything in her Will. She also gave her executors specific instructions to fight a claim brought by Heather.
When Mrs Jackson died, Heather was renting a property via a housing association. She had 5 children and was not working. Her husband (who was the childhood sweetheart she ran away with), was not very well. Heather made a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This Act gives children (including adult children) of the deceased the right to challenge a Will if it does not make reasonable provision for such child. The Act sets out the matters that the Court need to consider when making any decision in this regard and they are for example the financial resources and needs of the Applicant, any obligations and responsibilities the deceased had towards the Applicant, the size of the estate and any other matter which includes the conduct of that Applicant.
At the first hearing in 2007, Heather maintained that she was not financially secure and the Court had to ask the threshold question whether the will “was not such as to make a reasonable financial provision” for Heather. The Court decided the answer to the threshold question in Heather’s favour and she was awarded £50,000 which the Court considered reasonable for maintenance. The Judge found that Mrs Jackson had acted in an “unreasonable, capricious and harsh way” towards Heather. The last attempt at reconciliation had broken down because Mrs Jackson took exception to the name Heather had given her 5th child. It found that Mrs Jackson had unreasonably excluded Heather despite her needy financial circumstances.
Heather then appealed as she wanted more than the £50,000. The charities cross-appealed. The High Court agreed with the charities that the first Judge had erred in law and that it had been wrong to award Heather.
Heather appealed and the Court of Appeal in 2011 did not agree that the Judge had erred in law. They therefore re-instated the original order of £50,000 but referred the matter to the High Court to determine whether £50,000 was the correct amount to be awarded.
On Monday and after 8 years of legal appeals and challenges, the Court increased the amount and awarded her £143,000 to buy her housing association home and also a further £20,000 to cover expenses. They considered that the only reasonable provision they could make was to award her the sum she needed to buy her home from the housing association. The balance will be divided between the charities. The Court in re-exercising their discretion to increase the award did so by applying the factors mentioned above in the Act.
The charities are no doubt now considering whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.