High Court Breaks Deadlock in Novel Will Dispute

Twenty-four years after farmland was compulsorily acquired to make way for a new motorway, a judge has ruled on the correct destination of compensation payable by the Department for Transport. The case raised novel issues of particular interest to wills and probate professionals.

The land was acquired in 1993 to enable the construction of the road, which opened to traffic in 1997. Its owner had received interim compensation payments but more than £90,000 remained outstanding at her death. She had executed a number of wills over the years, all of which left the land to her godson. Her final will bequeathed the residue of her estate to three cousins.

In those circumstances, the executors of the will sought judicial guidance as to whether the money should pass to the godson, as inheritor of the land, or to the cousins, as residuary beneficiaries. In ruling in favour of the latter course, the judge rejected arguments that the owner could be taken as having intended a gift of the money to her godson. On a true interpretation of the will, no such intention could be discerned and the money thus fell into the residue of the estate.