Your assets are your own and, when making your will, you have complete freedom to leave them to whomever you choose. As a case concerning a business tycoon’s £100 million estate showed, however, a will signed without the testator having knowledge and approval of its contents is not worth the paper it is written on.
The businessman’s final will bequeathed 80 per cent of his residuary estate to his youngest daughter. One of his sons and two of his grandchildren, who were major beneficiaries under an earlier will, were all but disinherited. In challenging the final will, the son argued that it did not represent his father’s true wishes.
Ruling on the matter, the High Court rejected claims that the daughter had brought undue influence to bear upon her father. It ruled, however, that his final will was invalid because he neither knew nor approved of its contents.
The Court found that, despite his exceptional business acumen and head for figures, the businessman was quite far along the spectrum towards total illiteracy. He may have recognised simple words, but complicated sentences in the final will would have appeared as a jumble to him. There was no evidence that he read the document before signing it.
No allegations of fraud or dishonesty had been made against the daughter and all the correct formalities had been observed in making the will. There were, however, circumstances – not least the apparent dramatic shift in the businessman’s intentions represented by the final will – that excited the Court’s vigilance.
The Court found on the evidence that the businessman was unaware that his final will – which was executed less than two years after its predecessor – radically changed the beneficiaries of his estate. It was not a valid testamentary document and the Court pronounced in favour of the earlier will.