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Can Your Will Really Last a Lifetime?

on Tuesday, 20 October 2020.

Wills can ordinarily be re-written countless times to meet your changing needs because preparing a new Will invalidates any made before it.*

A notable exception lies in the murky doctrine of mutual Wills, which can future-proof a Will and make it last a lifetime.

The recent case of Legg v Burton involved June Clark, who died leaving 14 Wills. June and husband Bernard had made 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 to their daughters and to no one else. As they put it, they wanted this to be "set in stone."

Their two daughters were with them when they made their Wills and after the solicitor had left, they questioned their dad about what would happen if either of them changed their minds after the other had died, including if June was to re-marry. Bernard reassured his daughters that 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 to help her a lot. However, over time and due to reasons including the sad death of Ann's own daughter, June came to rely ever more on her grandsons and on 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. 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 the estate should pass to them.

First Will Upheld

The Judge found that the promise that June and Bernard had made to each other in July 2000 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.

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.

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If you think you may have entered into a mutual Will and require expert advice, please contact Leila Goodarzi in our Private Client team on 07909 682 364, 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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