Wills – definition of “UK”

Wills look very easy to prepare and even easier to execute. Right?

I spend many hours a week trying to explain to clients and potential clients that Wills are a nightmare. They are complex documents governed by all manner of case law, statute and gut instinct. They should not be prepared recklessly or without serious respect to what is being done or achieved.

Well, I would say that wouldn’t I? I am a Solicitor after all and regularly bemoan and warn against using DIY wills and even will writers to prepare Wills. I remain steadfast in that view for a whole host of reasons that I have conveyed in numerous other blogs so I will not repeat here again.

The case I wish to refer to this month highlights just how complicated Will drafting is. Even seasons professionals get caught out.

The case is The Royal Society v Robinson [2015] EWHC 3442 (Ch)

In this case the central issue was the meaning of ‘United Kingdom’ in the deceased’s will.

The deceased was a physicist who had worked for much of his life for CERN in Switzerland. He and his wife had no children, and they made English Wills leaving their combined estate, which dealt with global assets, to the Royal Society.

In 2006, the deceased acted on advice to make a Swiss Will to deal with his Swiss assets. He then made an English Will to deal with his assets here.

On his wife’s death, he sought to make specific gifts in his will to his niece, two children of another (deceased) niece and to a carer. He instructed the same English firm that had dealt with his English will. He made a new will in 2009 therefore in similar terms but with the specific gifts.

On his death most of his wealth was in offshore accounts in the Isle of Man and Jersey. At issue was the technical meaning of ‘United Kingdom’. This was critical because accounts ‘situated in the United Kingdom’ passed under the Will after the payment of legacies to the Society; accounts that were not in the UK would pass under the intestacy rules (to his specific legatees).

The court concluded that on the true construction of the 2009 Will, it did include the assets in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

The case highlights the importance of correct terminology and the ever present vexing issues for the courts who are left with interpreting easily avoided mistakes.

DIY at your own peril.

This information provided in this article is not intended to constitute legal advice and each relationship breakdown requires careful consideration in our view by a fully qualified Solicitor before decisions are made and before you embark on a certain course of action.

 

Shak Inayat
Solicitor
0207 183 2898