Supreme Court rules on Will signature error case

26 December 2014

The Supreme Court has ruled that an intended heir should not be disinherited based on an incorrectly signed Will.  The ruling is based on the premise that Wills should be treated in the same way as commercial contracts and that obvious oversights should not invalidate a testator’s wishes.

The case involved a couple by the name of Alfred and Maureen Rawlings who had drafted wills in 1999.  However, an error arose at the point of signature when the solicitor accidentally handed them the wrong Will, hence Mr and Mrs Rawlings inadvertently signed each other’s Wills.  The content of the Wills was identical, except for the identity of the maker, and each left their entire estate to their spouse and on the death of the survivor, the estate was to pass to Terry Marley who was not a blood relation.  The error remained unnoticed, even following the death of Mrs Rawlings in 2003 when her estate passed to her husband. 

When Mr Rawlings died in 2012, the couple’s two sons, who were not provided for in the Will for reasons which remain unknown, argued that their father’s will was invalid as it had been signed by the wrong person. 

Mr Marley proceeded to argue the authenticity of Mr Rawlings’ will through the courts however faced rejection based on the fact that the Will did not satisfy the correct legal requirements for signature and further that it was not within the courts’ powers to rectify the mistake. 

Lord Neuberger’s disagreed however saying that “Whether the document in question is a commercial contract or a will, the aim is to identify the intention of the party or parties to the document by interpreting the words used in their documentary, factual and commercial context.  I would therefore allow this appeal and hold that the will should be rectified so that it contains the typed parts of the will signed by the late Mrs Rawlings in place of the typed parts of the will signed by Mr Rawlings”.

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