A man who was the intended beneficiary of a £70,000 estate has lost out after the discovery of a major blunder at the time that his deceased ‘parents’ signed their wills.
Terry Marley befriended a married couple who, in 1999, had a meeting with their solicitor to sign the wills that had previously been drafted for them. The wills were brief and almost identical to one another: each spouse left their entire estate to the other or, if their spouse failed to survive them by one calendar month, to Mr Marley, whom they had treated as a son for several years. The clear intention of the couple, Alfred and Maureen Rawlings, was to exclude their own two sons from benefiting under their wills and instead to pass their estate to Mr Marley.
Unfortunately, when it came to signing the wills, each of them mistakenly signed the other’s. The mistake went unnoticed on the death of the wife in 2003, but came to light when the husband died in 2006. At that time, the two sons successfully claimed that their father had died intestate, as his will was invalid, having been signed by the wrong person.
On appeal, counsel for Mr Marley tried to invoke Sections 20 and 21 of the Administration of Justice Act 1982. These provisions allow for the rectification of a will in order to give effect to the testator’s intentions. However, it was held by the Court of Appeal that in order to take advantage of such provisions, it was first necessary to have a valid will. The Court upheld the view of the original trial judge that the wills were invalid as they had not been properly signed.