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10-02-2014

The Supreme Court have ruled in the case of Marley v Rawlings and another that a couple’s intended beneficiary should not be excluded from inheriting where there was a mix up in the signing of the Wills.

This is the case of Mr & Mrs Rawlings who created mirror Wills in 1999. Their Wills stated that their estates were to pass to each other on the first death of them. On the second death, the estate was to pass to Mr Marley, who was not a blood relative but who they treated as a son. This was despite having two sons themselves.

The Wills were drawn up by a Solicitor who acknowledged an oversight on his part when he handed Mr & Mrs Rawlings each other’s Will to sign. No-one noticed the error.

Mrs Rawlings passed away in 2003 and her estate passed to her husband as her Will stated. The error was still not spotted. It was not noticed until Mr Rawlings passed away in 2006.

One aspect of the validity of a Will is that it must conform to section 9 of the Wills Act 1837. This section lays out how a Will should be signed. The sons challenged the validity of their father’s Will citing non-compliance with section 9. If the Court agreed, Mr Rawlings would then be judged to have died intestate and the sons as closest blood relatives would inherit his estate.

Earlier Courts found in favour of the sons. However, the Supreme Court have decided that whether the document in question is a commercial contract or a Will, the aim is to identify the intention of the party or parties to the document by interpreting the words in their documentary, factual and commercial context. On that basis, they agreed the Will should be rectified as if it were signed by Mr Rawlings meaning Mr Marley would inherit as intended.

So, where does that leave us with section 9? And does this mean more cases will be brought before the Court to rectify a “clerical error”? Whilst it is possible there may now be an increase in litigation on such matters, each case will of course turn on its own facts.

This is intended for general information only and should not be considered as giving advice in relation to any individual case, nor be taken as applying to any particular case. No liability is accepted for any such use of the information contained in this post.

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