Interpretation of the wording in a Will

Recent reports relating to the matter of Joan Edwards’ Will has caused some political embarrassment to both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

Mrs Edwards died last September aged ninety.  She had no close family, and in her Will she left her estate to ‘whichever government is in office at the date of my death for the government in their absolute discretion to use as they think fit’.  At her death her estate was worth £520,000.

The interpretation applied to the distribution of the estate was to pay the funds to the political parties that formed the coalition Government at the date of her death.  Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, being in power at that date, decided to split Mrs Edwards’ legacy between them as party funds.  The funds were divided pro-rata between the two, according to the number of MPs and ministers in each.  The Conservatives therefore received £420,576 and the Liberal Democrats £99,423, and both parties reported the legacy as a party donation.

This action and this interpretation of the Will was, however, challenged by Richard Roberts, Chairman of the Law Society’s Wills and Equity Committee.  He identified that the Will specifically referred to ‘whichever government’ and not ‘whichever political party shall form the government’.

In the course of the media frenzy that then erupted, both parties announced that the legacy would be turned over to HM Treasury.

This subtle difference in wording highlights the importance of using correct and accurate wording in a Will.  Difficulties can arise in the most seemingly innocuous of cases.  In the reported case of Sikes, Moxon v Crossley, the deceased made a gift of ‘my Piano’.  However, at the date of the deceased’s death, the piano then owned was different from the piano owned at the date of the Will.  Did the gift fail because the original piano no longer existed, or did the gift apply to the replacement piano?  It does not take much imagination to see how similar issues could apply to the gift of a person’s car in that person’s Will.  The answer, of course, is for the person preparing the Will to either clearly identify the car or refer to ‘any car that I may own at the date of my death’.

Clients may sometimes complain about the length of a clause contained in a Will but, as an experienced solicitor will point out, additional wording can clarify the deceased’s intention and avoid costly battles through the courts.

If you have any queries regarding the making of a Will, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Wills Trusts and Probate team at: enquiries@blasermills.co.uk