Synopsis: The family of a deceased man have failed to have his will overturned on the grounds of lack of knowledge and approval despite the fact that he left his entire estate to a builder with whom he had been friends only a short time.
The High Court has dismissed a claim by the family of a 75-year old man who left his entire estate of £472,000 to a local builder with whom he had become acquainted in the years leading up to his death. Despite the fact that the provisions of the deceased’s last will (made just two months prior to his death in March 2013) were inconsistent with those contained in previous wills (which left everything to family and close friends), the judge found that there was nothing suspicious about the preparation and execution of the new will and that it had been made with the testator’s full knowledge and approval. The rationale for the decision was that:
- The form of the 2013 will was consistent with that of the testator’s previous wills, which he made personally in 1991, 2003 and 2011 in that all four were prepared and executed without a solicitor using widely available templates
- The will was short, straightforward and capable of being readily understood by the testator who was educated and of full mental capacity
- The testator asked his financial advisor and another person to witness his will
- The new beneficiary, even if not a close friend, was someone who had regularly visited the deceased and been kind to him
- The testator had himself shown the will to the beneficiary and read it to him before handing it to him some weeks later.
The Judge duly pronounced for probate of the 2013 will.
‘Want of knowledge and approval’ allegations are attractive to claimants because, provided there are suspicious circumstances about how the Will came to be made, the onus will be on the party seeking to rely on the disputed Will to prove that the document represents the testamentary intentions of the testator. In this case, however, the Court found that the new beneficiary had amply rebutted any possible prima facie case that the facts should ‘excite the suspicion of the court’.
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