This is the story of Aaron Glenwood and his late cousin, Cathy.
Aaron Glenwood has come to see Caroline Barnes, a Solicitor with Rita Sen Solicitors. Aaron explains that he has received a letter from another Solicitor about the estate of his cousin Cathy Laker and Aaron’s mother-in-law, Rose Green, had suggested that he contact Caroline for advice.
Aaron tells Caroline, when he was young, he and his family lived very close to Cathy and her mother. Cathy’s parents were divorced and she did not have any contact with her father. Cathy and Aaron had been very close when they were growing up, more like brother and sister than cousins and they had stayed in regular contact ever since.
Sadly, Cathy and her husband George had been involved in a very serious motor accident and they both been killed. Apparently, among Cathy’s paperwork, there had been a Will that she had prepared herself and it was about that document that the other Solicitor had written. The Solicitor had been instructed by someone called Jon Laker, who said he was Cathy’s half-brother. It had transpired that Cathy’s father had remarried and Cathy had three half siblings, although she had never met any of them and, as far as Aaron was aware, had not even known of their existence.
Aaron handed over a piece of paper to Caroline. She read it quickly, seeing that it was a copy of a home-made Will that Cathy had made. Straight away Caroline could see the problem. Cathy had drawn up the document on a Will Form, the type that you could buy in any number of Stationers. Unfortunately, in the space for specific bequests Cathy had written that she wanted to leave the whole of her estate to her husband George. Then, in the space provided to deal with anything that had not previously been left to someone (what the form called the “residuary estate”) Cathy had written that she wanted everything to go to Aaron.
“The Solicitor is saying that the Will isn’t valid because it seems to be trying to give away the whole of the estate twice. That can’t be right, can it?” Aaron asked.
“Well, I can see what they are getting at.” Caroline said, thoughtfully. “However, it seems to me that what Cathy wanted to happen is quite clear. I am sure she wanted to leave everything to George, if he was still alive when she died. If George had died before her then she wanted you to have everything. It’s the standard sort of thing that goes into a Will. We call it a “substitutional gift”. I have to say that nowadays the Courts are much more willing to be pragmatic when it comes to the interpretation of an ambiguous Will, so they can give effect to what the deceased wanted. We might well be able to persuade a Court in this case that you should…….” Caroline paused, examining the document again, with a look of horror on her face! She pushed the copy Will across the table, pointing to where it had been signed. “Isn’t Lesley Glenwood, one of the witnesses, your wife?”
Aaron nodded, “Yes, apparently Cathy popped round while I was out one day and asked Lesley to sign a piece of paper for her. Lesley thinks this must have been it.”
“Well, putting aside for a moment the question of whether Lesley actually saw Cathy sign the Will and was present with the other witness when that happened, I am afraid that there is a rule which says that if you or your spouse or civil partner witness a Will then any gift in it to you will be void. Sadly, even if we could persuade the court to give a sensible interpretation of this you still would not be allowed to receive any benefit from it.”
“So who will get the estate?” Aaron asked.
“Assuming that Cathy’s parents are both dead and she didn’t have any full brothers or sisters then the half siblings will share it equally.”
“Even if she didn’t have any contact with them or know of their existence?”