Mistakes in wills
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 posses considerable experience in bringing negligence claims in relation to these errors.
One of our recent cases shows how even highly intelligent people can make errors that give rise to disputes. We acted for the Royal Society after it was left a legacy from the well-known nuclear physicist, Michael Crowley-Milling, of all his assets ‘in the United Kingdom.’ Described as a scientific genius, it appears that Mr Crowley-Milling made a geographical error, assuming that the United Kingdom would include his assets in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. We successfully argued that this was an oversight, and he had intended to leave almost £1 million held in bank accounts in these locations to the charity.
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. The Crowley-Milling case was about what was meant by the words ‘in the United Kingdom’ but in the past the court has been asked to rule on the placing of a comma.
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.
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