Mistake and Rectification of Wills

It’s a common misconception that a Will cannot be changed after a testator has died.

Take the case of Irish-born Bridget Murray. She died in July 2010 aged 87, leaving a Will she had executed only months prior to her death. Her estate was valued at £220,000.

Mrs Murray was a devout Catholic and an active member of the Catholic Council. She disapproved of her granddaughter, Caroline Barrett, cohabiting for 18 months before she married. However, according to the terms of her March 2010 Will 25% of her estate was to pass to Mrs Barrett and her brother David Robertson (being the children of her fourth child, Monica, who had died three years before Mrs Murray).

Mrs Murray’s three remaining children, David and John and Catherine, disputed this interpretation of the Will arguing that Mrs Murray’s intentions differed from those expressed in her Will. They alleged that Mrs Murray did not want her grandchildren to inherit from her estate and that they only did so because of an error in drafting.
Mrs Barrett said that her grandmother had expressed a wish for her to be married. It hadn’t affected their relationship, although she was very pleased when she became engaged.

The High Court Judge ruled that Mrs Murray’s views may not have been particularly fair and on one view may be capricious but it was a matter for her who she left her estate to and she had not intended to leave money to the children of Monica.

People often overlook the fact that the Court has the power to rectify a Will under section 20 of the Administration of Justice Act 1982. The court can admit evidence of the testator’s intention to solve any ambiguities caused by the drafting of their Will under section 21.

Clearly, in the Murray case the Court was more concerned with the deceased’s intentions so as to enable the rectification of her Will to meet those intentions than it was to stick to the terms of the strict drafting of the document. It therefore emphasises how important it is for a testator to provide clear instructions to the solicitor when a Will is being drafted. It is also crucial for a testator to check the Will thoroughly to ensure that it meets with their intentions.

If you would like to discuss rectification of a Will or you are involved in a Will dispute then please call us on 0808 139 1599 for a free case assessment.

Alternatively you can email us at lee.dawkins@sleeblackwell.co.uk