Making a will without the benefit of professional legal advice is an excellent recipe for strife between your loved ones after you are gone. That was sadly so in the case of a cancer sufferer who had no understanding that, when she signed her will, she was disinheriting her two beloved children.
About two and a half years before she succumbed to the disease, the middle-aged woman signed a will which had been drafted for her by her younger brother using a template downloaded from the internet. Save for her collection of books, she bequeathed him the entirety of her estate, which was worth almost £400,000. The will represented a radical departure from a previous will by which she had divided her estate equally between her children.
After the children challenged the will’s validity, the brother contended that it was a perfectly straightforward case in which she had simply changed her mind for good reasons, as she was fully entitled to do. He had faithfully carried out his sister’s instructions in drafting a very clear and straightforward will, the terms of which she could not have failed to understand.
There was no dispute that the will was lawfully executed and that she had the mental capacity required to make it. However, in upholding her children’s challenge, the High Court found that, having taken no legal advice, the woman fundamentally misunderstood what the effect of the document would be.
Her intention was that her brother, acting as her executor, would receive her estate and then apportion it between the children so as to reflect a disparity in lifetime gifts they had received from her. She failed to grasp that the effect of the document was to disinherit the children and give the entirety of her estate, bar her books, to her brother to keep for his own purposes.
The Court had no doubt that she deeply loved her children, who, despite their faults and foibles, were her pride and joy. She was grateful for her brother’s support as she fought tooth and nail against her illness, but he had not replaced her children in her affections. Even after she signed the will, she continued to make reference to the children’s upcoming inheritance.
The Court observed that there were aspects of the document, and the background history leading up to its execution, that excited suspicion. It found on the evidence that she lacked knowledge and approval of the will’s contents and particularly its effect. In restoring the children’s equal inheritance, the Court directed that the previous will should be admitted to probate.