One might think that the freedom of a person to dispose of his or her assets by Will is, or ought to be, sacrosanct. In England and Wales, as opposed to many European jurisdictions and jurisdictions further afar, this is largely the case.
The Inheritance Act 1975
That freedom exists in England and Wales, save that certain parties (primarily the spouse) but also children and those who have been maintained by the deceased (see below) may apply to the Court under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 ("the 1975 Act") to be awarded a part of the deceased's estate in the absence of their having been so provided under his/her Will. Essentially, under the 1975 Act, the Court may award a spouse (or someone in similar circumstances) an amount which it considers to be reasonable provision for their maintenance or otherwise and in respect of other qualifying applicants (see below) the Court may make an award in their favour so far as is necessary with regard to reasonable provision for their maintenance alone. As appears from the judgment that follows, the Court finds the determination of 'maintenance' and 'reasonable provision' for such 'maintenance' to be difficult to determine and there are conflicting views.
Ilott v The Blue Cross & Others
In Ilott v The Blue Cross & Others  UKSC 17, the application of the 1975 Act came before the Supreme Court, the highest Court in England and Wales, for the first time. The claim was brought by the daughter of the deceased Mrs Jackson, namely Mrs Ilott, who had been estranged from her mother for 26 years. Her mother had determined as early as 1984 that she was not going to leave anything to her daughter who had chosen her own way of life.
The daughter, Mrs Ilott, lived in straightened financial circumstances. She applied under the 1975 Act for reasonable financial provision to be provided for her out of her mother's estate, notwithstanding that her mother had made it clear since 1984 that she was not to receive anything and that her mother was to leave her estate to charities. A District Judge determined that Mrs Ilott should receive £50,000 as a reasonable provision...