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Can Your Will Really Last a Lifetime?

on Wednesday, 23 December 2020.

Wills can ordinarily be re-written countless times to meet your changing needs because preparing a new Will invalidates any made before it.* However, the recent case of Legg v Burton demonstrates how sometimes, a Will really can last a lifetime.

The case involved June Clark, who died leaving 14 Wills. June and husband Bernard had made their Wills in July 2000, leaving everything to the survivor of them and on the survivor's death to their two daughters, Ann and Lynn equally.

A Promise Set in Stone

At the time they made their Wills, June and Bernard promised each other that they would never change the terms of their Wills. They both wanted to pass their home and the remainder of their estates to their daughters. As they put it, they wanted this "set in stone."

Their two daughters were with them when they made their Wills. After the solicitor had left, they asked their dad what would happen if either changed their minds after the other had died. Bernard reassured his daughters they had already promised each other they would not change their minds. Both daughters told the court that June had overheard this conversation from the other room and had shouted through from the kitchen: "No I bloody won’t change it either!”.

Changing Wishes

Bernard died the following year and June initially relied on her two daughters a lot. However, over time and for reasons including the sad death of Ann's own daughter, June came to rely more on her grandsons and one of their partners.

As a result, she made 13 more Wills following Bernard's death, each one progressively giving more to her grandsons and the partner, and less to Ann and Lynn, save for the last Will which rowed back a little. June's last Will of December 2014 left Ann and Lynn just small cash legacies. The rest, including the house, went to the grandsons and partner.

June died two years later in 2016. Following June's death, the grandsons considered that the December 2014 Will was valid, but Ann and Lynn claimed that the July 2000 Will should be upheld, and their mum's estate should pass to them.

First Will Upheld

The Judge found that the promise that June and Bernard had made to each other amounted to a legally binding agreement. The doctrine of mutual Wills was employed, meaning that the July 2000 Will was upheld, despite the 13 other Wills that had been written after it. The Judge considered all the evidence and found that:

 "Mr and Mrs Clark expressly promised each other that having made their Wills in the form they had they would not revoke them."

The Judge went on to find that Mrs Clark "…was not free unilaterally to alter her Will and make a new one inconsistent with that of July 2000…"

The agreement became eternally binding on Bernard's death. June and Bernard could have agreed to alter or rip-up their mutual Wills whilst Bernard was alive if they had wished to (if they both retained mental capacity to do so). However, once Bernard had died, June was locked into the legally binding agreement she had made with Bernard and was no longer free to alter it.

Consider Carefully and Review Regularly

It can be tempting to predict the future and enter into a mutual Will to future-proof it. We advise to consider this very carefully and seek specialist advice because of the limitations imposed. Alternatively, regularly review your Will especially when big life events happen such as marriage, the birth of children, death, divorce and property acquisition, to be sure it meets your continuing needs.

Coronavirus Legal Advice

If you think you may have entered into a mutual Will and require expert advice, please contact Fiona Lawrence in our Private Client team on 07909 901370, or complete the form below.

* Marriage also automatically invalidates Wills made prior to marriage unless a clause specifies this is not the case and subject to any validity challenges to a Will.

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