Buying a printed Will form from a shop and filling it in yourself may sound like a smart way of saving a little money on lawyers’ fees – but it most certainly is not. The point was made by a High Court case in which a woman fed the fire of a family dispute by signing three such forms without taking any legal advice.
The woman signed the three purported Wills four years apart. By the time she made the last one, she was said to have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. All three Wills were in similar, but not identical, form. After gifts to her children, she directed that her home be sold and the proceeds paid to her brother.
The brother applied to the Court for a Grant of Probate, but without specifying which of the Wills he considered to be valid. The woman’s son disputed the validity of all three Wills on the basis that they had not been executed in accordance with the strict requirements of the Wills Act 1837. In particular, it was argued that two witnesses whose signatures appeared on the Wills had not been present when the woman herself signed them.
In ruling on that issue, the Court noted evidence that the woman was entirely housebound when she signed the two later wills. It found that her brother had fabricated evidence that she had travelled by car to the witnesses’ home in order to sign the Wills in their presence. There was evidence that, by then, she did not travel in cars and the brother had had several opportunities to procure her signature on the Wills when alone with her. In respect of the last of the three Wills, however, the Court found that the evidence of defective execution was not powerful enough to overcome the legal presumption that it was valid.
The son also claimed that his mother was not of sound mind when she signed the Wills, and that the brother had brought undue influence to bear upon her. Those claims would be tried at a further hearing.
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