Signing a Will – Simple? Think Again

15 October 2014

Author: Neil Bleakley
Practice Area: Private Client

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There are certain formalities attaching to the implementation of Wills and a recent English case, Marley –v- Rawlings, has served as a valuable reminder of how a seemingly straightforward aspect of the implementation of a Will (in this case the actual signing of the Will) can, if not observed properly, lead to significant difficulties in the future.

In this case Mr and Mrs Rawlings, an elderly couple, instructed their solicitor to prepare mirror image Wills for them.  On the death of the first spouse to die, the estate would be left to the surviving spouse.  On the death of the surviving spouse, the estate would go to their adopted son. 

Importantly, in the context of this case, Mr and Mrs Rawlings also had two natural sons. 

The mirror image Wills were duly drawn up.  However, although the Wills were identical in structure and content, Mr and Mrs Rawlings inadvertently signed each other’s Will.

Nobody noticed until much later. 

When the mistake was ultimately noticed, lengthy litigation ensued between the adopted son (who sought rectification of the Wills) and the natural sons (who sought a distribution to them as if there had been an intestacy). 

Sadly, legal costs ate up the estate left by Mr and Mrs Rawlings. 

While obviously in this particular case even the presence of a solicitor in the signing process did not prevent a mistake from arising, the case does illustrate the importance of complying with the formalities attaching to the implementation of a Will. 

Advising our clients in relation to their Wills is an important part of the work undertaken by our Private Client Team and is often viewed in the context of a wider estate planning discussion.

If interested in exploring this further please contact either our Neil Bleakley or Fiona Wallace.

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