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Sometimes wills simply do not reflect what was intended. It can be because of a mistake in the drafting, a mistake in understanding instructions, or simply because the grammar or choice of words is confusing.We have a long list of reported cases where we have successfully resolved disputes arising from mistakes in wills. We also possess considerable experience in bringing negligence claims in relation to these errors.
There are two main ways to put right a mistake or clarify an ambiguity: rectification (known in the US as reformation) and construction. Rectification/reformation is allowed where there is either a clerical error (which is defined very broadly); or a misunderstanding of instructions. If this can’t be achieved, your only redress may be a negligence claim if the will was professionally drafted.
The usual way to resolve ambiguity is through a ‘construction application’, which asks the court to decide what the words in the Will mean. These invitations to the court can sometimes be brought on behalf of the executors.
With extensive practical knowledge of mistakes in wills and how to resolve them, we bring claims on behalf of executors, disappointed beneficiaries, individuals and charities seeking clarity. We also defend will-drafters accused of negligence.
Paul Hewitt and Phineas Hirsch worked with Jersey advocates for the RSPCA, Cancer Research UK and RAF Benevolent Fund in securing an order that Mrs Ivelaw had retained her English domicile of origin after many years living in Belgium and that she had not intended to revoke an earlier Jersey will benefitting the three charities when she made a later Belgian will.
Withers represented one of the heirs to a publishing fortune in a case arising out of a dispute with his children over the administration of various family trusts. Withers successfully resolved the dispute through alternative dispute resolution in California avoiding a costly court battle and prolonged family discord.
We worked with Jersey advocates and advised Macmillan Cancer Support on an application before the Royal Court of Jersey about the correct interpretation of a will. Under the will, two shares of residue were left to Macmillan, but under different former names. The executor considered Macmillan only took one share. The Royal Court, applying English law, held that Macmillan was entitled to two shares.
Our lawyers brought the highest value Inheritance Act claim to date in Wooldridge v Wooldridge (2016). We were acting for a widow who sought to increase provision under her husband’s will after his death in a helicopter accident. The will had been “homemade”, written without legal advice, and our client felt that her husband had intended to leave her a greater share of his assets.
An eminent physicist, Michael Crowley-Milling who made English and Swiss wills bequeathed our client the Royal Society “all my assets in the United Kingdom”. The technical definition of United Kingdom excluded almost £1 million in bank accounts in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. We successfully argued that the scientific genius had made a geographical error and had also intended to give these assets to the charity.
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