Adult Children and Will Disputes

Published: 12th October, 2016

Harrogate based Personal Law solicitor, Mark Jones, looks at the recent conflicting case law on adult children and will disputes.

Most of us like to think that we will always be close to our children but, sadly, in today’s world this is not always the case. When we make Wills it is not unusual for us to come across cases where our clients have lost touch with their adult children and in some cases family disputes might have left parents and children estranged. The question can therefore arise of whether children will have a claim against an estate if they are not provided for in the Will.

Until quite recently our advice was generally that unless some kind of promise or expectation had been given, adult children would only have a claim against an estate if they were to some extent financially dependent upon their parents. The case of Ilott v Mitson in 2011, however, moved the goalposts. In that case a mother left her estate to charity and made no provision for her adult daughter from whom she was estranged. The daughter was in difficult financial circumstances and made a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. To the surprise of many practitioners, her claim in part succeeded because the court held that the mother was under a moral obligation to support her impecunious daughter.

One difficulty that this gave us when drafting Wills was that where parents are estranged from the children it will often be the case that they will have little knowledge of the children’s financial circumstances.

A further case in September 2016, however, may have moved the balance a little way in the other direction once again.

In this case Danielle Ames who is 41 and unemployed, made a claim against the £1 million estate of her late father, Michael Ames, saying that being disinherited had left her with crushing debts, with her outgoings exceeding her income by £2,000 a month. In this case, however, it was held that she did not have a claim against the estate. This was partly because the court took into account the fact that Mr Ames had helped his daughter start a picture framing business in the 1990s and had, therefore, given her help in setting her up in life but also because the court held that Ms Ames was fit and able to work and chose not to do so as a “lifestyle choice”, having given up the picture framing business when she had children. In this latest case, therefore, the court gave priority to the needs of Mr Ames’ surviving second wife.

The two cases are not entirely comparable because Mr Ames had a surviving widow to be considered whereas the estate in the Ilott case had been left to charity but taking all of the cases together, what is clear is that judging whether or not adult children will have a claim against a parent’s estate is not entirely straightforward and can depend upon the specific circumstances of each case.


This article was written by Mark Jones. Mark is an Partner in our Personal Law Department and is based in Harrogate.

Mark specialises in the creation and administration of trusts, tax planning and wills as well as probate work, particularly those where the family has fallen out and contentious issues have arisen.

To review your affairs or for further advice generally please contact Mark Jones on 01423 502211 or