Wills & Probate Case Studies

Interpreting a Will

We recently acted in the administration of an estate where the deceased left everything to his local church. Unfortunately, the will did not clarify which particular church should receive the gift.

The gift was worth nearly £400,000.

Two different churches fell within the vicinity of the parish. The will had been prepared nearly 30 years earlier. The original will file was not available.

Partner Tony Illsley acted as a professional executor. Enquiries were made and witness evidence obtained from local parishioners confirming that the deceased had attended both churches over the years. The investigation included contacting the Diocese of Birmingham.  Both churches made a claim as a beneficiary.

Section 24 of the Wills Act 1837 provides assistance with the interpretation of the terms of a will. Normally, when clarifying the assets in an estate the will speaks from the date of death. This is subject to any contrary intention in the will. However, this presumption does not apply to the identity of beneficiaries. This means that the will speaks from the date of the will and not the date of death.

Applying this construction to the terms of the will, and reviewing the evidence obtained, it quickly became clear that the deceased only attending a single church at the date of the will and this church should be the receiving beneficiary. The deceased had only attended (or had any known contact with) the second church decades later.

This was agreed by the second church who withdrew the claim allowing the executors to distribute the estate to the correct church.

DNA testing

The deceased had not made a will and his estate would therefore be distributed as an intestacy.

Being unmarried at the date of death, the intestacy provisions provide for the whole estate to pass to any children equally, or if they have predeceased, to grandchildren.

We were instructed by the daughter of the deceased who expected to inherit the whole estate as her brother had died many years earlier as a teenager while still at school.

Further investigation revealed that the son had fathered a child as a teenager. We instructed an enquiry agent to trace the mother, and eventually, we were able to trace the daughter. Our client had never had any contact with her niece.

On intestacy a half share of the estate would now pass to our client and one half would pass on statutory trusts down the bloodline to the granddaughter.

In addition to receiving half of the estate of her late father that she never knew, the beneficiary also gained an aunt she had previously never met.



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