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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

23 JAN 2014

The Supreme Court rules that signature error does not invalidate wills

Journals Manager + Online Editor

@matthia5mueller

Supreme CourtThe Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that a couple's intended heir should not be disinherited despite the fact that the couple erroneously signed each others wills.

Lord Neuberger, giving the majority judgment in the case of Marley v Rawlings and Another [2014] UKSC 2, held that 'a will should be interpreted in the same way as a contract' but that under certain circumstances ‘direct evidence of the testator's intention is admissible'.

Alfred Rawlings and his wife, Maureen Rawlings, had drafted mirror wills in 1999. Each spouse left their entire estate to the other, and to the appellant, Terry Marley, if the other had already died.

Mrs Rawlings died in 2003, but it was only in 2006, when Mr Rawlings died, that the error became evident.

The respondents, Terry and Michael Rawlings, Mr and Mrs Rawlings's sons, challenged the validity of the will which Mr Rawlings signed. If it was valid, Mr Marley would inherit the £70,000, whereas if it was invalid, Mr Rawlings would have died intestate, and the respondents would inherit the £70,000.

In 2012 the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court that Mr Rawlings had not intended to give effect to the will which he signed and that in any event the court does not have the relevant power to rectify the will.

Lord Neuberger, however, said that: 'When interpreting a contract, the court is concerned to find the intention of the party or parties ... When it comes to interpreting wills, it seems to me that the approach should be the same.'

The Supreme Court thus ruled 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.

The judgment is available from the Supreme Court website.

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