Even apparently obvious or trifling clerical errors in a will or codicil may provide fertile ground for dispute and that is why it is so important to have such documents drafted by a professional. In a High Court case on point, a straightforward mathematical blunder came close to defeating a deceased scientist’s wishes.
By his will, the man divided his residuary estate – which was worth over £900,000 – into 52 equal parts. Six named individuals were each to receive six of those parts and the remaining 16 parts were to be distributed equally between eight charities.
By a subsequent codicil, however, he deleted the gifts of 12 parts to two individuals who had died before him. Four further parts were bequeathed to charity, but the end result was that only 44 of the overall 52 parts were allocated. The remaining eight parts were worth over £140,000 and the executor of his estate launched proceedings in order to resolve doubts as to what should become of them.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the terms of the codicil created an evident mathematical inconsistency with the will. That had the potential to create a partial intestacy by removing the eight unallocated parts from the scope of his will. In that event, they would fall to be distributed to his next of kin. The Court, however, found that such an outcome would not reflect his true intentions.
The Court found it unlikely that, having taken the trouble to make a detailed will which, on the face of it, provided for the distribution of his entire estate, he would have intended the codicil to create a partial intestacy. The likelihood was that the mathematical mismatch arose from a simple clerical error.
That conclusion was supported by close analysis of other documents – including a previous will – that had been created during his lifetime. The Court exercised its powers under Section 20 of the Administration of Justice Act 1982 to rectify the will so as to delete the words ‘fifty-two parts’ and replace them with the words ’forty-four parts’. That amendment, the Court found, resulted in the whole of his estate being distributed under the terms of his will and in accordance with his wishes.