Harris v The Beneficiaries of the Estate of Margaret Alice Cooper (deceased) – Jan 2010

The testatrix died in April 2008. By a home-made will, she left her property to the claimant, who was also her executor. The testatrix’s residuary estate was to be divided equally ‘between her surviving relatives’. The claimant gave evidence that the only relatives that the testatrix had mentioned had been her first cousins on her mother’s side, A, F and P. Further, no mention had been made of another first cousin, E, who had not been seen since 1939, A or P’s families, nor any relative on the testatrix’s father’s side.

The claimant applied for a declaration as to who were the appropriate beneficiaries. The court had to determine who were the objects of the testatrix’s gift and their respective interests, having regard to section 21 of the Administration of Justice Act 1982.

The court ruled: The meaning of each set of words had to be decided by reference to the precise verbal and factual context in which the words had been used. Further the court would strive to give effect to a gift made rather than declare them meaningless and to resort to a partial intestacy. In the circumstances of the instant case, the testatrix had intended to leave her residuary estate to A, F and P alone, to be divided equally between them.

It is likely that the costs of obtaining this declaration from the Court will have incurred the Estate in Legal Bills in excess of £15,000.00. Had the Testatrix come to GAD LLP Solicitors, her simple will instructions will have cost her only £125.00 (plus vat). A false economy on the part of the Testatrix which benefitted no-one except the lawyers and a  problem  that could have been avoided from the outset by having a professionally drafted Will.

Remember that even the most simple of “plain language” can cause horrendous problems within a legal document where it’s interpretation will be essential in determining the legal effect of a clause. What a person “thinks they are saying” and what they are “actually saying” can often be poles apart.

Make a home-made-will at your peril!