How to Contest a Will Without Challenging Its Legal Validity (Part 2)
HOW TO CONTEST A WILL WITHOUT CHALLENGING ITS LEGAL VALIDITY (part 2)
This is the second part of our two part blog about contesting the legal validity of a Will, without actually challenging its legal validity. In our first part we explained how the deceased, who was married to our client (her husband), left him nothing under the terms of her Will, because she mistakenly believed that he would automatically inherit their extremely valuable (worth approximately £1.8M) matrimonial home, as they owned it jointly. In fact, of the two types of joint ownership, they were joint owners on a “tenancy in common” basis which meant her share fell into her estate to be dealt with by her Will, within which she had made no provision for her surviving husband.
Why not challenge her Will?
There were no obvious grounds:
- She had instructed Solicitors to draft it and arrange its execution all of which had been correctly dealt with
- Although she was seriously ill with cancer and taking very strong pain killing medication (morphine based), which technically could have caused confusion and memory problems, the doctors who were treating her made no record that these were issues when her Will was prepared by her Solicitors and executed (specific evidence of a loss of capacity would be required to have a chance to dispute the Will)
- Finally, given in England and Wales there is so-called freedom of testamentary disposition, she was not obliged to leave her estate to her husband, children and other blood relatives.
So what could we do to challenge her Will?
There were three primary avenues of attack:
- Firstly a claim in professional negligence against the Solicitors who drafted and arranged the execution of the Will. Although, they had no direct contractual relationship with our client, a number of leading cases have held they have a duty of care to a disappointed beneficiary (see https://swarb.co.uk/white-and-another-v-jones-and-another-hl-16-feb-1995/). Here the primary failure on their part was to carry out a Land Registry search (https://www.gov.uk/search-property-information-land-registry), which would have taken only minutes and cost £3(! ) to check how the property was held and advise the deceased accordingly, following which we would have expected her to make sufficient provision for our client, her husband, under her Will.
- Secondly, a claim to rectify the Will under section 20(1) Administration Act 1982 (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1982/53/section/20). By this Act, a Will can be rectified, if it fails to carry out the intentions of the deceased, because of a clerical error and/or a failure to understand his or her instructions. In https://swarb.co.uk/bell-v-georgiou-and-another-chd-28-may-2002/ this was found to include an error on the part of the deceased herself. Again, without getting too technical, a “clerical error” has been found to have a wide meaning, perhaps beyond the obvious, but in any event, there was plainly a failure to understand the deceased’s instructions in our case, since they were founded on a basic misunderstanding so far as her joint ownership of the matrimonial home was concerned.
- Finally, and even though our client was the husband of the deceased, he still had rights and entitlements in relation to their matrimonial property, given the fact of their marriage. She was obliged to make sufficient provision for him and in fact he had relied largely on her income throughout the course of their marriage. Our third limb then was a claim for him under section 2 of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
It is possible to bring all three of these claims at the same time and in fact expected, insofar as the claim in professional negligence against the Solicitors was concerned, as our client was obliged to “mitigate” (limit) his losses. Notwithstanding he was successful in doing this, given he incurred unnecessary expenditure in pursuing these claims (his costs of bringing them), the Solicitors were required to meet this wasted expenditure which we couldn’t completely recover by means of the other claims.
If you consider that any of these facts and matters are likely to apply to you, then please do not hesitate to contact us for a confidential no strings chat or visit us at www.willclaim.com.