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Adopted son loses his inheritance due to the Wills being wrongly signed

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This case has caught my eye this week as the Court of Appeal has been asked to reconsider the decision of the High Court earlier this year, which resulted in Terry Marley losing any inheritance from his parent’s estate.

Terry Marley was ‘unofficially adopted’ at the age of 15 by Alfred and Maureen Rawlings, and spent the next 30 years living with and caring for them in their old age. However, he was never legally adopted by them, and therefore had no automatic entitlement to their estate, in the event that they did not make Wills. Their estate is thought to be worth around £70,000.

In around 1999, Alfred and Maureen decided to reward Terry’s devotion and kindness by making Wills, leaving their entire estate to him when they died and disinheriting their two natural sons. However, after their deaths, it was then discovered that Alfred had signed the Will belonging to his wife, and she had signed the identical Will belonging to her husband in 1999. As each of them had not signed their own Wills, both Wills were therefore invalid, and the estate passed under the rules of intestacy, to their natural sons.

Terry Marley, now 50, has launched a court battle to fight for his inheritance. He lost his case in the High Court earlier this year, and is now appealing the decision in the Court of Appeal. His solicitors have argued that the court should uphold the couple’s wish for Terry to be their heir, and that a simple mistake by them should not invalidate their Wills. According to the Daily Mail, they told the Court that “there is no doubt whatsoever” of the couple’s intentions in making their Wills.

The mistake over the signatures has been blamed on the solicitor, and apparently came to light when Alfred died in 2006, three years after his wife. The High Court however took a very strict approach when applying the Wills Act 1837, which sets out the very simple, but very strict, requirements for a valid Will. If a Will is not executed correctly, the Court does not have any jurisdiction to rectify the mistake.

Judgment has been reserved by the Appeal Court, and therefore we will have to wait until a later date for a decision. However, I consider that it is likely that the Appeal Court will not overturn the High Court’s decision.

This case is very interesting to me, as it shows that despite it being very simple for people to make their own Wills, whether it be using a kit from the local post office, or using an online service, there is really no substitute for Wills being prepared and executed in front of an experienced and qualified solicitor. If the formalities of the Wills Act are not complied with, then a Will is not valid, and in a case like this, can leave what was a genuine beneficiary without any inheritance.

If you think you may need to challenge a person’s Will, or if you need assistance in defending a challenge against a Will, then contact our specialist litigation team who deal with inheritance disputes on 01616 966 229.  If you are of limited financial means, you may even be entitled to Legal Aid, and we can advise you of this quickly over the phone.  We also offer a range of other funding options, if you are not eligible.

By inheritance disputes solicitor, Heather Korwin-Szymanowska