Fight for the right to disinherit!
Today, a ruling by a UK court of appeal set a disturbing landmark precedent by overturning the will of Melita Jackson, a woman who died more than a decade ago. Heather Ilott, Jackson’s daughter, succeeded in persuading the court that her mother’s decision to exclude her from her will was ‘unreasonable, capricious and harsh’, and that her final wishes should therefore be ignored. Ilott secured a £50,000 share of her mother’s estate in a previous court case. But, after today’s ruling, she will be granted a total of £164,000.
The justification for this verdict appears to rest on the belief that Ilott had done nothing serious enough to be disinherited by her mother – she upset her by eloping aged 17 – and that her mother had little real connection with the animal charities that became her beneficiaries. Now, while Jackson does seem to have been unusually intolerant of her daughter’s mild transgression, there has been no suggestion that her mental faculties were in any way impaired, or that she had been coerced into writing her will by a third party. However unfair Jackson’s decisions might seem, they were still her decisions to make. And, as far as anybody can tell, they were made freely.
This ruling represents a worrying expansion of the power of judges. Now it seems the decisions of the deceased can be scrutinised, called into question and overturned, even if they were freely made. While we are permitted to leave our money to whomever we like, judges now have the power to overrule our wishes if they feel our choice of beneficiary was unjustified.
This is a dangerous erosion of our personal liberties, reflecting a modish contempt for autonomy. It is one thing to cast doubt over the choices made by somebody suffering from dementia, it is quite another to make pseudo-ethical judgments about the way the deceased chose to distribute their possessions. A person’s last will and testament deserves far more respect.
Stefan Rhys-Williams is a spiked intern.
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