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Mirror Wills Mishap that Means Double Joy for Charities

Nov 16, 2016
Judgment has been published in an interesting case heard this summer in the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice, Manchester District Registry. The case of Jump and Jones v Harry Dow Lister and Foresters Solicitors Ltd concerned a Mr and Mrs Winson who made mirror Wills on 17 August 2010 by which they left their estate to the other, with the survivor leaving on their death specific legacies totalling £214,500 to the same 13 named individuals and 10 named charities and the residue of their estate to Sandra Jump and Suzanne Jones, their two nieces. (For more information about mirror Wills, please click here.)

Unfortunately, both Mr and Mrs Winson were found dead at their home and it was not possible to determine who died first.

The question that the Judge had to answer, therefore, was whether each of Mr and Mrs Winson’s estates would have to pay the £214,500 to the individuals and charities named in their Wills, or whether those individuals and charities would receive just one total of £214,500 which would have been the case had either Mr or Mrs Winson survived the other. It was common ground between all the parties at court that it was not the intention of Mr and Mrs Winson to pay out these specific legacies twice. However, it was the drafting of the clauses in the Will which caused the problem that lay before the court to decide.

The court’s role was to interpret the Will in order to find the intention of the testators by identifying the meaning of the words used in the Will in the light of their natural and ordinary meaning, the overall purpose of the document and any other provisions in that document, the facts known to the parties at the time and common sense, but crucially ignoring subjective evidence of intention. In this particular case the court looked at the words used in the Will and found that the meaning of those words was clear and, when applied, the result is that the specific legacies of £214,500 are to be paid once by the estate of Mr Winson and a further time by the estate of Mrs Winson.

If the way in which the Will was drafted could be said to have been a ‘clerical error’ it may have been possible for a claim to have been brought for rectification of the Will for the Will to be altered so that the true intentions of the testators could be given effect. However, no such claim for rectification was brought and the Judge did remark his surprise at this.

As a result of the claim, Mr and Mrs Winson’s solicitors were ordered to pay the costs incurred by Sandra Jump and Suzanne Jones. It is also likely that the Claimants will now seek compensation from those solicitors and their indemnity insurers for the extra £214,500 paid to the specific individuals and charities named in the Wills, which otherwise they would have received as residual beneficiaries.

Should you have any questions or require further information regarding cases or claims concerning Wills, inheritance or trusts, please contact Daniel Winter who is a Partner of this firm and Head of the Wills and Trusts Dispute Resolution Team (telephone no: 01279 755777). Daniel is a certified contentious trusts and probate specialist with ACTAPS, the recognised association of legal specialists in this complex area of law.

Daniel Winter

About the author

Daniel Winter

Daniel joined Nockolds in 2009 and is a Partner in our Commercial and Property Litigation Team. Daniel has been practising as a qualified Solicitor for ...

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