201710.12

Tempted to Make a Home-Made Will Without Legal Advice? Don’t Do It!

Signing a home-made will, without legal advice, is a false economy and creates a real risk that your wishes will not be honoured after your death. One striking example concerned an eastern European man who was penniless when he settled in Britain – but was worth over £2.75 million when he died.

The man came to Britain soon after the Second World War and worked in a quarry. By the time he died, aged 91, he owned three properties – two in the UK and one in his native Montenegro – and a portfolio of stocks and bonds. He died a childless bachelor and only one of his six siblings survived him.

Despite being a British citizen, and having lived in the UK for almost 70 years, he had a limited grasp of English. The hand-written will he made two years before he died was littered with spelling and grammatical mistakes. Parts of the document were smudged or obliterated. It was not precisely dated and, although his signature was witnessed, it did not include an attestation clause.

Lawyers were appointed to protect the assets of the estate and applied to the High Court for rulings in respect of the true meaning of the will. Difficulties posed by the document included a bequest to a non-existent cancer charity and a legacy to a friend, the amount of which had been obliterated.

In ruling on the case, the Court found that it was possible to discern the man’s intentions from the wording of the will. It ruled that the majority of the estate, including the three houses, should go to the Serbian Orthodox Church, in London, to be held on trust for the benefit of people in need, especially children, in Kosovo.

Various legacies to his nieces and nephews were clear and, with the assistance of a forensic document examiner, the Court was able to find that the bequest to the friend was £8,000. The word ‘money’ in the will was interpreted as including his stocks and bonds, which would also go the Church to be held on trust. The Court directed that the £10,000 bequest to the non-existent charity should be distributed amongst a number of cancer research organisations.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the Court found that the man had the mental capacity required to make a valid will. Certain steps remained to be taken before the document’s validity could be formally confirmed and the bequests distributed, but the Court expressed the hope that any remaining issues could be resolved by agreement.

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