Drafting wills may appear easy and many people are tempted to save a few pounds by dispensing with legal advice. However, as one High Court case clearly showed, the words used can have particular legal effects that could not be foreseen by a layman and a thorough knowledge of the law is therefore essential.
The case concerned a will by which, after specific legacies, a woman bequeathed the residue of her £437,508 estate equally to those of her three sons who were living at the date of her death. Two of them died before her, one of them having had a daughter. An issue thus arose as to whether the latter was entitled to inherit her father’s share of the estate. The surviving son argued that he was entitled to the entire estate on the basis that the gift to his brother lapsed on his death.
In ruling on the dispute, the Court noted that a straightforward interpretation of the will supported the surviving son’s arguments. However, that ignored Section 33 of the Wills Act 1837. That provision requires that, where bequests are made to children or other descendants who die before they can inherit, their entitlements will normally pass to any of their own children who survive the donor.
There was no sufficient evidence, either in the wording of the will or in her conduct, that indicated that the woman had intended Section 33 not to apply to her will. In the circumstances, the daughter was entitled to inherit a legacy of almost £50,000 left to her deceased father and his half share of the residuary estate.
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