Channel 5 have launched a new documentary series called “Inheritance Wars: Who Gets the Money?”. In the first episode, an infamous inheritance case was covered, being Marley v Rawlings, which addressed a case of two clients who had inadvertently signed each other’s Wills.

To complicate matters further, the clients had chosen to not provide for their own sons under the terms of their Will, but instead decided to leave their estate to a child who they had viewed as their ‘adopted’ son, despite never legalising this arrangement.

The clients’ sons therefore challenged the validity of the Wills and claimed that because their parents had signed the wrong Wills, they should be held as invalid. This would have meant that their father, who was the second of their parents to die, would have been deemed to have died intestate (meaning without a valid Will) and therefore the estate would have passed to the sons.

In a battle that lasted for many years, the case eventually made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which is the final court of appeal in the UK.

The Supreme Court unanimously held that the Will should be admitted to probate as the valid Will of the husband, applying the same principles of interpretation and rectification that are used for contracts. The Court reasoned that the will clearly expressed the husband’s intentions and that the error was a simple clerical mistake that could be corrected. The Court also rejected the argument that the Will was invalid because it did not comply with the formal requirements of the Wills Act 1837, as it was clear that the husband had intended to give effect to the document as his Will.

The judgment is a victory for common sense and justice, as it gave effect to the wishes of the testator and prevented his estate from passing to unintended beneficiaries. It also harmonises the law of Wills and contracts, making it easier for Courts to deal with cases involving similar issues in the future.

This case incurred huge financial costs and as such it demonstrates the importance of drafting clear and accurate Wills to ensure that testator’s wishes are achieved.

If you have any queries regarding the preparation of Wills, contesting an estate, or just finding out a bit more about the high level of professional standards that we adhere to at Ellisons, please do get in touch with one of our Wills, Trusts and Probate specialists.