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Will mistakes – court ruling shifts focus to ‘intention’


Will mistakes

Will mistakes are unfortunately common. A will containing errors is often difficult to put right and can result in an inheritance being lost. The type of mistake made is important.

Couple accidentally signed the wrong Wills

The Supreme Court in 2014 ruled that a beneficiary was not to be disinherited just because a couple had mistakenly signed each other’s wills.

In the case of Marley v Rawlings (and another) Mr and Mrs Rawlings each accidentally signed the wrong will which meant that the documents did not comply with the strict statutory requirements for a valid will.

The couple intended to leave their entire estate to Mr Marley who was not a blood relation. They had 2 sons of their own. Their sons had attempted to have the will of Alfred Rawlings, their father, overturned on the basis that it was invalid because it had been incorrectly signed.

The Supreme Court ruled that the mistake should be treated in the same way that a clerical error in a commercial contract would be treated. In other words, that an obvious mistake should not be allowed to stand in the way of a beneficiary inheriting under the terms of the will.

Common-sense approach to will mistakes

Commentators have said that there will now be a much greater focus on looking at Testators’ intentions behind making their wills, in order to achieve a ‘common sense’ outcome.

Lord Neuberger said in the Supreme Court judgement:
“Whether the document in question is a commercial contract or a will, the aim is to identify the intention of the party or parties to the document by interpreting the words used in their documentary, factual and commercial context”

“Litigation floodgates to open following the Marley case.”

Immediately following the Supreme Court decision in Marley v Rawlings it was suggested that it would lead to more cases involving will mistakes. We haven’t seen a flood of litigation yet but the ruling is likely to mean that professionals must take greater care to record the intentions of the person making the will (the ‘Testator’).

Will mistakes are more likely in ‘Home-made’ wills

In the case of DIY or ‘home-made’ wills, there is likely to be even more scope for family disputes because it is rare for there to be any evidence of the testator’s intentions or motives behind a testamentary gift. It’s also very common for home-made wills to contain errors, so there’s likely to be even more scope for family disputes. It’s perhaps no wonder that some experts are predicting an opening of litigation floodgates as a result of the ruling in Marley v Rawlings [2014] UKSC2.


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