Supreme Court Cures Mirror Wills Blunder

In an important case which marks a distinct liberalisation of the Court's approach to the formalities of will writing, an adoptive son who was caught in a legal nightmare after his parents accidentally signed each other’s mirror wills has had his rightful inheritance upheld by the Supreme Court.

There was no doubt that Maureen and Alfred Rawlings had intended to leave their £70,000 life savings to Terry Marley, whom they had ‘unofficially adopted’, and to disinherit their two natural sons. However, when each of them signed the other’s will before they died, the High Court and the Court of Appeal each decided that there was nothing that they could do to put right the couple's error.

Both courts ruled that Mr and Mrs Rawlings had died intestate and that their savings thus passed to their natural sons. However, in reversing those decisions, the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, ruled that it was a ‘classic case’ in which the Court could do justice by rectifying the mistake.

Describing it as 'a very clear case', he said that the couple’s testamentary intentions were entirely clear and that their error could, in a broad sense, be described as no more than ‘a clerical error’. It was therefore appropriate for the Court to exercise its powers of rectification under Section 20 of the Administration of Justice Act 1982 and to confirm Mr Marley’s inheritance.

Beloved Sheep Trigger Property Dispute

An animal lover's legal campaign to secure a return home for what remains of a prize flock of sheep bequeathed to him by a 93-year-old friend has been brought to a sad end by the Court of Appeal.

The man had been given the flock of over 100 Suffolk sheep by the pensioner with whom he lodged and, following her death, had stayed on in her home to care for the animals. She had signed a document before she died expressing her wish that he be permitted to stay on in her home for ‘a minimum of two years’ until ‘good homes’ could be found for the sheep she had adored.

However, once the two years were up, the executors of the woman’s estate required the lodger to leave and a County Court judge granted them a possession order on the basis that his benefactor had envisaged that he could stay in her home for two years but that, thereafter, it would be up to her heirs to decide if he could remain for longer.

Rejecting the man’s appeal against that decision, the Court observed, "The question is whether he had been granted a right to stay on the farm provided that he looked after a flock of sheep there. She had gifted the sheep to him and he says that her main interest in life was the sheep."

The Court found that the pensioner had not conferred on her lodger a right to remain living in her home indefinitely. After the expiry of the two-year period, she had contemplated that a good home for her sheep would be found elsewhere.

The lodger had moved out of the property after the making of the possession order and said after the hearing that he still had about 20 sheep from the original flock which were being cared for on a friend's farm.

He described his benefactor, whom he had known for over 30 years, as a ‘formidable and highly spirited’ woman who had such a deep affection for her sheep that that she knew most of them by name. He said, "Those sheep were her life. If she called, they would come running.

“She was a good person and she was 100 per cent devoted to those sheep. She would be mortified to see what has happened to them. I told her I would do my utmost for the sheep but I have now taken it as far as I can."