If you believed your will was a cast-iron way of leaving your money and possessions to the people you wanted, then think again.
The latest Court of Appeal ruling in London has overturned the law and has left the way open for disinherited family or loved ones to contest your last wishes in court.
After an eight year legal fight through the courts, judges decided a mother who made no provision for her estranged daughter in her will should be ignored.
In the case, Melitta Jackson had expressly written in her will that she did not wish to leave any of her estate to her daughter Heather Ilott.
The daughter contested the will and won a third of the estate, valued at £500,000.
Life of deprivation
Jackson had left the money to animal charities, but the court felt that Ms Ilott would face a life of deprivation if she was not given a share.
The grounds for the decision were that Ms Ilott’s sole income was state benefits and that she had no prospect of providing holidays or clothes for her children without the cash.
The court also ruled that Jackson had little affinity with the charities.
The question is how does this case affect families when someone dies and wishes to disinherit a child or former loved one?
Lawyers expect a flood of cases to go before the courts with adult children who received nothing from a parent’s will contesting the validity of the document.
Anyone with a will who does not wish to leave part of their estate to family or loved ones now needs to review how the document is drafted.
Writing someone out of a will
Instead of simply writing someone out of a will, the likely result is parents will have to leave a statement explaining why they feel someone should not receive any money from their estate and why they have decided to leave their life’s savings to specific charities or people.
Excluding someone from a will is not impossible as a result of the ruling, but is made more difficult and requires tighter drafting of the document.
This means leaving detailed explanations of why decisions were made to include or exclude beneficiaries.
For expats, the case affects assets such as cash and property overseas as well as in the UK.
That’s because wills are based on domicile not residence, so English courts have jurisdiction over foreign assets even if one will is made in the UK and another overseas, even if the rules of succession are different in both countries.