Contentious Trusts and Probate Monthly Round-Up: March 2016

31 March 2016

Ilott v Mitson (2015)

On 1 March 2016, the Supreme Court reported that it has given the residuary charity beneficiaries (the RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross) leave to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision in Ilot v Mitson that increased an award to an estranged daughter for reasonable financial provision from her mother’s estate. The facts of this case are well known. The issues for the Supreme Court are: (1) whether the Court of Appeal was wrong to set aside the award made at first instance in the 1975 Act claim; (2) whether the Court of Appeal erred in its approach to the maintenance standard under the 1975 Act; and (3) whether the Court of Appeal was wrong to structure a 1975 Act award in a way which entitled Ms Ilott to preserve her entitlement to state benefits. We await the judgment of the Supreme Court for further guidance about claims by adult children under the 1975 Act.

Felicity Mary Mackley Blades v (1) Richard Auberon Isaac (2) Christopher Allen Alexander (2016)

The High Court considered a claim by a beneficiary of a discretionary trust created by the will of Mrs Valeria Mary Lee, dated 9 August 2012, for disclosure of information (including trust accounts). The Claimant is one of two children of Mrs Lee who died on 19 June 2013 in a road traffic accident. Mrs Lee left her entire estate to her trustees on discretionary trusts for a class consisting originally of the Claimant, her husband, her children and Mrs Lee’s cleaner.  Mrs Lee left a letter of wishes which included suggested gifts to members of the class, but also 5% of the estate for her other daughter (the Claimant’s sister) who was not originally a member of the class. The trustees exercised their power to add the Claimant’s sister to the class and distributions were subsequently made out of the will trust to all members of the class except the Claimant’s husband. The Claimant was unhappy with the Defendants’ handling of the administration and in particular expressed concern about the level of costs. On a number of occasions the Claimant asked the Defendants for a detailed breakdown of the estate but these requests were refused on the basis that the estate accounts were confidential to the executors and trustees and the trustees had concerns about the relationship between the Claimant and her sister. The Defendants premised this decision on counsel’s advice. The Defendants later consulted different counsel for a second opinion which resulted in the disclosure of the information sought. The Claimant submitted that the Defendants should pay both her costs and their own without recourse to the assets of the Estate or the Will Trust. The court held that the trustees had at most breached their duty to account to a beneficiary but they had acted out of genuine concern about potential harm to familial relationships and no loss had been caused to the trust fund. The costs of all parties were to be paid out of the trust fund.

(1) Gerald Abraham Davidson (2) Maxine Yvette Davidson v Roger Hugh Knight Seelig & 5 Ors (2016)

The High Court has refused the purported protector of a trust (1) permission to re-amend his defence (2) to bring a counter claim in proceedings challenging the validity of his appointment and (3) for specific disclosure of certain categories of documents. Mr Justice Henderson held that it was too late for the purported protector to raise new arguments by way of defence (irrespective of whether they were potentially relevant to any exercise of the court to remove him from office) given that he was hearing the matter in mid-December and the trial had been listed in early April 2016 and that in any case the purported protector lacked evidence to support the proposed amendments. He went on to conclude that the purported protector lacked standing to bring a counter claim and that the request for specific disclosure was a matter that should be dealt with (if necessary) once his status as protector had been confirmed.

Should you wish to discuss a disputed Will or Trust, please do not hesitate to contact our Wills, Trusts and Inheritance Disputes team.

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