Today’s news regarding a dispute between family members over the Will of the late comedian and actor, Robin Williams, highlights the problems that can be caused when trying to interpret what the deceased truly intended at the time the Will was executed.
Whilst the claims advanced by Mr Williams’ widow appear perhaps a little tenuous, it may be that the US Courts have a more open procedure for interpretation than in England and Wales. Nevertheless, when in England and Wales and there are ambiguous Will terms or questions of true meaning and intention, the Chancery Division of the High Court acts as a court of construction, to construe the deceased’s intention.
The fundamental rule in construing the language of a Will was set out by Viscount Simon LC in the case of Perrin v Morgan in 1943 as:
“to put on the words used the meaning which, having regard to the terms of the Will, the testator intended. The question is not, of course, what the testator meant to do when he made his Will, but what written words he uses mean in the particular case – what are the “expressed intentions” of the testator.”
This means that the Will itself, and the words used, are the primary consideration of the Court when construing the language. Evidence from sources other than the will itself can also be considered if the language of the will is ambiguous.
Applications to the Chancery Division of the High Court for determination of a question of this nature are made under Part 64 of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 and can either be straightforward uncontested applications, or fully contested proceedings.
For cases where the deceased meant or intended to do something that the person who drafted the will either misinterpreted or failed to understand properly, there is a more appropriate alternative to this application, called “rectification”. In such cases the Court has the power under the Administration of Justice Act 1982 to alter or rectify the wording of the Will where it is satisfied that the Will fails to carry out the deceased’s intentions due to either (a) clerical error or (b) a failure to understand instructions.
For further information please contact Daniel Winter by email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01279 755777.