In this case, Mr and Mrs Rawlings made very simple wills in 2009 leaving their entire estate to each other in the first instance and then to Terry Marley, a man they had treated as a son, despite having two sons of their own.
The wills were reflective in their terms and mirrored each other so that the operative terms of the will were identical. However, when the wills were signed, there was a mix up and Mr. Rawlings accidentally signed the will of Mrs Rawlings and vice versa.
On Mr Rawlings death in August 2006, his sons argued that that their father’s will was not valid because he had actually signed the will intended for his wife. In 2012, this matter went to the High Court and it was held that the court did not have power to change the will, despite the fact that all of the judges agreed that it was Mr Rawlings intention that Terry Marley would inherit.
This decision was appealed and heard in the Supreme Court yesterday where Lord Neuberger said: ‘Whether the document in question is a commercial contract or a will, the aim is to identify the intention of the party or parties to the document by interpreting the words used in their documentary, factual and commercial context.’
He ruled that the appeal should be allowed and held that the will could be rectified so that it contains the typed parts of the will signed by the late Mrs Rawlings in place of the typed parts of the will signed by Mr Rawlings.
This is a significant judgment because it was generally considered that only typing errors could be considered clerical errors which could be fixed. A commendable common sense approach was taken in this case and the judgment has been welcomed by practitioners.
For further information please contact a member of our Wills, estates & tax planning team.