If you are of sound mind when you make your will, the law presumes that you both know and approve of its contents. As a case concerning a disputed farm inheritance showed, however, that presumption can be overcome by evidence.
A farmer died at the age of 91, leaving an estate valued at over £980,000. He made a final will about three years before his death which purported to bequeath his land and farmhouse – by far his largest assets – to the eldest of his four sons.
After one of the brothers challenged the will’s validity, the High Court noted that there was no doubt that the farmer had the mental capacity required to make valid bequests. The document had been properly executed and there was no suggestion that undue influence had been brought to bear upon him.
The will, which was clear and unambiguous on its face, was prepared by a firm of solicitors who took detailed instructions from the farmer. Both on the telephone and in a face-to-face meeting with a solicitor, he confirmed that he understood the will’s provisions and was content with them. He read the document through carefully before appending his signature.
The Court, however, came to the clear conclusion that the farmer did not have knowledge and approval of the will’s contents and that he seriously misunderstood its provisions. The document, as drafted, contained a critical mistake with the result that it did not reflect his true testamentary intentions.
On the evidence, the Court found that he did not intend to make an outright gift of the land and farmhouse to his eldest son. His intention was that those assets would fall into his residuary estate for division between his sons. Under the will, the residuary estate was apportioned 62.5 per cent to the eldest son and 12.5 per cent to each of his brothers. The Court observed that that intention could be accurately fulfilled by deleting certain words from the will.