Wills are called ‘last testaments’ for good reason. That’s because once we die, there is nothing we can do to change them from ‘the other side’. We tackle the question of what makes a will invalid today.
Or put differently, how to make sure we leave a valid will. For that surely is the only way we can make sure our wishes will be fulfilled, and the assets we worked for will belong to those we love.
A Signature Court Case Sets the Stage
Wards Solicitors relate the story of Kenneth King and his animal-loving aunt in her declining years, June Fairbrother. This one went all the way to the Court of Appeals and cemented some very important principles.
After June died, Kenneth claimed she promised him her home on the basis he would look after her pets for the rest of their lives. However, she had an earlier 1998 will leaving the house to seven charities. But seven months before June died she wrote and signed a note leaving her house and property to Kenneth.
Five months later, Kenneth presented her with a new will leaving everything to him. June Fairbrother signed this without any witnesses. Then two months later, she died. The charities contested Kenneth’s claim to the estate, on the basis that the note and the will she signed did not comply with the Wills Act.
However, the High Court ruled June had made a deathbed gift to Kenneth and rejected the appeal by the charities. They in turn took the case to the Court of Appeals.
The gist of their argument was June Fairbrother was not close to death, there was no evidence of illness, and she had the time and capacity to make a legal new will. The Appeal Court decided as follows.
- Kenneth King was entitled to £75,000 as he was a dependent
- However, the rest of the estate should go the seven animal charities
Whether that complied with June Fairbrother’s final wishes is another matter.
Two Critical Lessons We Can Learn from This Case
A will must be in writing and signed
The signing must be before witnesses. If you can’t do this because you are blind, illiterate, incapacitated, or too unwell etc. then someone else may do this on your behalf. However, you must have mental capacity, and there must be a clause confirming you understand the contents.
Two adults who do not stand to benefit must witness the signing. If it turns out they were beneficiaries then they will lose their entitlement. However, the rest of the will remains valid, and the other beneficiaries still benefit.
A deathbed gift is exactly that
The person making the gift must be at the threshold of death, know why they are dying, and die for that reason shortly afterwards. A deathbed gift may only override a will – or the rules of intestacy – within this narrow range of circumstances.
Hence the Court of Appeals did not recognize Kenneth King’s claim. However it did allow him a dependent’s entitlement, perhaps because he was living with his aunt. We don’t know what happened to her beloved animals. However we would like to believe the charities took care of them.