The Ungrateful Dead – Challenges to Legacies to Animal Charities
A disproportionate amount of challenges against Wills are ones in which the deceased has left everything to animals. I personally have an interest in such cases, as one of the first cases on the matter was that of re Wedgwood in 1915. There, a member of my own family decided she would leave everything to her cat. Unsurprisingly, this caused enormous outrage within the family, much as it was designed to.
The recent decision in the case of Ilott v Mitson, was a similar case which involved the will of a woman, whose husband died tragically shortly before the birth of her only daughter. The relationship was not a happy one and her daughter later left as soon as she was able at the age of 17. The family never truly reconciled and she went on to leave everything to animal charities, with whom she had no real connection with. Unsurprisingly litigation ensued.
What some lawyers in their commentaries miss, is some people when writing their Will do so out of spite, as was the case with my own distant relative. Some unhappy people leave wills which are deliberately antagonistic and hurtful. An example from my practice is that of an elderly lady who had a neighbour wait hand and foot on them, on the promise of a share of the estate. She knew the neighbour was caring only because of the money and resented it. She eventually left everything to a distant relative. In these cases the disappointed person often finds it easier to vilify the lucky recipient, rather than the deceased. A tactical error that can lead to a hopeless case based on undue influence, rather than promissory estoppel or family provision.
As such, I welcome the recent Court of Appeal decision, which does not in any way rewrite the law, but is an example of changing morality on whether it is reasonable to be spiteful. The situation previously was, as in my family’s case, the money went to the fat cat.