Rules about the signing of wills are strict and shop-bought will forms are no replacement for professionally drafted documents. A recent High Court case showed the wisdom of having a solicitor present before you reach for your pen.
The case concerned a will by which a man cut out his son from any inheritance and left his entire estate to a long-standing neighbour and friend. The son suspected that the will, which had been hand-written on a standard form, had not been executed in accordance with the requirements of the Wills Act 1837. He went to the lengths of employing a private investigator to track down the two witnesses to the will.
It was revealed that, on the day the will was signed, the man had emerged from his home and called over two of the neighbour’s friends, who were repairing a van in his driveway. He asked them to witness his will and they had done so on the bonnet of his car. It was accepted that the man had already signed the will before placing it before the witnesses.
The Court noted that the home-made will’s attestation clause stated in terms that it had been signed by the man in the presence of the witnesses, although that was agreed not to be the case. In the circumstances, the legal presumption that the will had been validly executed was overcome and it was for the neighbour to prove that it had been.
In ruling in the neighbour’s favour and upholding the validity of the will, the Court found that both witnesses had given truthful evidence about the circumstances in which it was signed. It was clear that the man had acknowledged that it was his signature that appeared on the will when all three of them were together.
Had the man used a solicitor to make his will, the uncertainty that gave rise to the case would not have arisen.