The importance of knowledge and approval
Sarah Sharpin provides a summary of the recent case Reeves v Drew.
In this recent high profile case the High Court overturned the Will of a wealthy, but illiterate, testator (worth £100m) which had cut out his son, and left 80% of his estate to his daughter, for seemingly no good reason.
The Judge concluded that the daughter had “engineered” the Will, as she had been instrumental in the instructions for the Will, and at one point had given instructions to the solicitor to the effect that her father was happy with a draft. At trial the daughter disputed the extent of her father’s illiteracy, but her evidence was not accepted. The Court did not accept either her evidence that the testator “hated” his grandchildren or had decided to cut out his son.
There were serious concerns arising because it emerged that the daughter was corresponding directly with the solicitor who drafted the will and it was suggested by the Judge that his evidence and his file was not reliable, giving rise to concerns about dishonesty (which may be investigated further). Despite the testator’s wealth, the solicitor also charged a seemingly inappropriate fixed fee and defended his actions on the basis that accordingly he was providing a “Primark service” of which the Court was highly critical.
Although the testator had validly executed the Will, the ultimately Court concluded that he did not know and approve the contents of it, and the Will would therefore be set aside in favour of an earlier Will, providing an more equal split of the Deceased’s estate.
The case is a good reminder of why it is important to seek proper advice when preparing a Will, in particular, when the proposed Will is likely to be controversial, to ensure that the Will is given the best chance of surviving any post-death challenge and the desired split of the estate is achieved.