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Statistically, three quarters of people will be faced with an inheritance dispute at some point in their lives. Each week, there is a new headline grabbing inheritance story in the news, with reports of families being ripped apart through arguments over money, children being denied of what they considered should haven rightfully theirs and siblings fighting over the last penny.
Channel 5 has recently aired a new documentary series “Inheritance Wars: Who Gets the Money?”. This series tells the story of a number of families who have all lived through inheritance disputes, with lives impacted forever as a result.
Here we provide a commentary on the stories, the application of English and Welsh law and the likely impact on future cases.
Marley v Rawlings  UKSC – The Importance of Correctly Executing Your Will
This dispute was the first of its kind to reach the Supreme Court, and involved two brothers in a dispute with their unofficially adopted brother over their parents’ Estate. Their parents had prepared their Wills together in 1999, leaving their Estates to the adopted son, but had accidentally signed each other’s. This meant that, legally, the Wills were invalid as they had not been signed by the testator.
Mr Rawlings passed away in 2003 and Mr Rawlings in 2006. It was then that it became apparent that the Wills had been incorrectly signed. This meant that the Estate would pass intestate to the two brothers.
The adopted son issued proceedings to Claim the Estate in 2011, and applied to rectify the clerical error of each parent signing the incorrect Will. He argued that if the Judge believed the mistake on the Will was a clerical error then the Wills would be valid. The High Court held that the mistake could not have been a clerical error, and awarded in favour of Terry and Mitchell. The Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court, on the Appeal from the adopted son that the High Court had given the concept of a clerical error too narrow and interpretation.
The adopted son took it one step further and appealed to the Supreme Court, the highest of the courts, in 2013. It was held by the Supreme Court that it appeared the mother and father had intended to sign their Wills, and so it was held that the mistake was indeed a clerical error under the meaning given in Section 20 of the Administration of Justice Act. This resulted in the Estate of Mr and Mrs Rawlings going to the adopted son, as they had intended.
This case demonstrates why it is so important to ensure that Wills are prepared and executed properly. The requirements are set out by Section 9 of the Wills Act 1837 which provides that:-
The Administration of Justice Act 1982 provides that a Will may be rectified where there is a clerical error or misunderstanding. This case sets a precedent as to what may constitute a clerical error over and above a mere drafting or clear clerical error.
This case highlights the importance of ensuring your Will is prepared and executed correctly.
Diana Coad – The Importance of Using A Solicitor
Diana met Peter Dale-Gough in 1999 and fell in love, marrying in 2005. Peter had two daughters from a previous marriage. Peter and Diana moved into their dream home, which was owned equally between them shortly after. Following a heart attack, Peter became ill and required Diana’s care. Diana spent seven years being Peter’s main carer until his unfortunate death in 2013.
Diana had understood from Peter that he had made a Will, leaving his share of the property to Diana. It was not until after Peter’s death that Diana discovered he had never signed his Will, meaning that it was not a binding Will. The Will had been prepared by a Will writer, as opposed to a Solicitor, and a delay in drafting it meant that it was too late.
In a bid to obtain what Diana had understood to be hers, she took aggressive action and issued a Claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Unfortunately, due to a failure to comply with a specified Court deadline, Diana’s Claim was thrown out of Court and she was ordered to pay the other side’s costs, with total costs payable of £84,000. This tragically led to Diana being forced to sell their home.
Had Diana’s case not been struck out, it is likely she would have had a strong case to claim reasonable financial provision, as she had been Peter’s main carer and having a deteriorating health condition herself, had financial need.
This is a reminder to ensure that your Will is prepared and in order, to ensure that wishes are upheld. It is also a stark reminder of ensuring that the litigation process is correctly followed.
Daphne Franks – Loophole in the Law Relating to Predatory Marriage
Daphne, the daughter of Joan Blass, tells how a shock secret marriage resulted in her mother’s Will being invalid and her wishes not upheld.
Joan was born in 1924 and married her husband in 1960. Daphne was born 6 years later, with her brother nine further years later. The family were extremely close and in 1999, Daphne and her husband bought the family home, with her mother and father moving into a newly constructed house within the curtilage.
Joan’s husband passed away in 2008, leaving behind Joan, Daphne and Daphne’s brother. Joan was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2011.
Joan and her husband had previously made Wills, for their Estate to be split equally between Daphne and her brother. However, all did not go as planned following Joan meeting a man 20 years her junior in around 2011. She had failed to inform Daphne of this, and Daphne only became aware after finding a man’s belongings in her mother’s house. When questioned, Joan informed Daphne that she had invited a man in who had been at her garden gate. Joan did not appear to know who he was, and asked Daphne if she had “got him” for her.
The relationship between Joan and the man developed and he eventually moved in, in around 2014. At this point, Joan’s dementia had progressed and she was no longer able to say much at all.
In March 2016 Joan passed away. Three days later Daphne received a phone call from Joan’s GP, asking if she knew Joan had re-married. It transpired that Joan and the younger man had married some months before her death.
Under Section 15 of the Wills Act 1837, any pre- existing Will is automatically revoked when one marries. Joan’s last minute marriage therefore resulted in her wish to pass her Estate to her children, as contained in her Will, to be overturned. Tragically, the marriage also meant that Daphne had no control over her mother’s body, with control going to her legal husband, the man who had befriended her whilst suffering from dementia and arranged to marry her some months prior to her death.
Daphne issued a Claim in the Crown Court to re-gain control of her mother’s body and the funeral. Unfortunately, the high burden of proof meant that Daphne was not able to prove that her mother lacked capacity to get marries. There were no recordings of the wedding and the Judge accepted the younger man’s plea of love and affection for Joan. This is despite the fact that it was clear, from the Registrar’s notes, that Joan was unable to answer a number of questions on the day of the marriage. The Judge placed this on her demeanour.
As a further sting to Daphne, she was ordered to pay legal fees of £200,000. She has since contacted her local MP and the issue of predatory marriages and the loop hole they have on the intention of Wills has been discussed in Parliament. It is hoped that the loophole will be rectified in due course, particularly given the ageing population and higher probability of predatory marriages.
If you are involved in an inheritance dispute or if you consider that you are entitled to financial provision under a loved one’s Estate, we can assist you in setting out your legal position and rights and ensuring that the process is correctly followed. Please get in touch with one of our Solicitors in our Dispute Resolution Department.
If you require further legal advice, please contact one of our experienced solicitors by emailing email@example.com who would be happy to assist.
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute, legal advice, and should not be relied upon as advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. All content was correct at the time of publishing. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.