Should Judges Ever Rule against People’s Wills?

Does the very concept of a judge being able to rule against a dead person’s last will and testament seem completely unacceptable to you? Perhaps you feel that this really is the final straw when it comes to our judiciary asserting their rulings in an area that really ought not to be touched? Upon first glance at this issue, I would have to admit to having felt very similar feelings myself; however, as with everything in life, especially law, things are never that straightforward, and there could well be circumstances at play that might just change your mind.

Take the case of Llott v. Mitson [2015] EWCA Civ 797 as an excellent example of circumstances that might just persuade you into sympathy for the judges in our top courts.

The claimant in this case was an early-middle-aged woman who had three children and was living on state benefits in modest means and circumstances. Her mother, from whom she had become estranged some 26 years earlier due to her choice in boyfriends, must have lived a much more fortunate and affluent life, as when she passed, she left an estate worth no less than £486,000. 

The mother, many would say very spitefully, went out of her way to ensure her only child did not receive a penny of this estate. Indeed, she sought professional legal advice to make her estate as watertight against her daughter as possible, and then went on to leave her fortune to three animal charities, all of which she had little or no previous connection with. 

One of the most salient sentences to be pronounced during this case came from a judge who stated that “Your Will can be ignored”. When you recall that the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 is in existence for people to actually contest wills in circumstances similar to these, this certainly bears this statement out.

The claimant sought to rely on this provision in her contestation of her mother’s will, and the Court of Appeal eventually awarded her £50,000 from the estate. When this claim was further appealed and escalated to the Supreme Court, she was finally awarded a figure of well over £140,000. Still nowhere near the £486,000. 

In their summarisation of the case, the judges cited the fact that the daughter should be entitled to some financial assistance (based on the Act of Parliament mentioned above), in line with her current living expenses and financial expectations. Moreover, it would seem that the judges saw the mother’s act of leaving the money to more or less unknown charities as spite, as they openly admitted that this move had been construed as against the daughter.

What’s your opinion of a judge being permitted to rule in such cases now? Are you starting to sway more in their favour?

Having read through the full details of this case on Westlaw, I could completely understand why this ruling had been made. When the last wishes and acts of an individual are based on pure revenge and spite, this absolutely has to be crushed in the name of fairness, and good sense should prevail whenever possible. 

It may interest you to know that the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs actually have a couple of courses that cover this exact area of law. Unit 5 of the Legal Secretaries Diploma Course covers Wills, Probate and Administration Practice, and there is a single subject course by the same name, if you would like to study this topic on its own.