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Case law: Builder inherits estate following unsuccessful claim that Will-maker did not know and approve contents of his Will

A person who wants to challenge a Will on grounds the testator did not know and approve its contents should be aware they must satisfy a strict test, a recent ruling has clarified.

Legal Alert

This update was published in Legal Alert – July 2015

Legal Alert is a monthly checklist from Atom Content Marketing highlighting new and pending laws, regulations, codes of practice and rulings that could have an impact on your business.

A man left everything in his 2013 Will (around £472k) to a local builder who had befriended him in 2007. Previous wills, including one in 2011, had left everything to the testator's cousin and to a friend's children.

The testator died, and the cousin and his friend's children claimed the 2013 Will was invalid for 'want of knowledge and approval' (ie he did not know or approve of what was in it).

The Will was not prepared by a solicitor but was based on a DIY Will template. However, it was properly executed at the testator's home and witnessed by a financial adviser and a plumber he knew, who were there at the time.

The builder said his relationship with the testator had not been close. He had carried out some building work for the testator, which he had not charged for, and visited him from time to time to do odd jobs for him. The testator had shown him the Will when he made it, and the builder said he had been shocked to see he was the beneficiary. When he had asked the testator if he was sure, the reply had been that he did not want to talk about it.

Proof of capacity to make a Will and its proper execution, is usually in the form of evidence that someone has knowledge and approval of the contents of their Will. It is only where there are suspicious circumstances that the person alleging the Will is valid must produce evidence of knowledge and approval - by showing that the testator understood what was in the Will and what its effect would be.

In this case, the Court said the evidence showed the 2013 Will had been made with the man's knowledge and approval, and he had 'intended it to give effect to his testamentary wishes' because:

  • The Will was consistent with his previous Wills.
  • It was short, easy to understand and he had clearly read it.
  • He was an educated man who had made his own Wills before.
  • There was no doubt about his capacity to make a Will.
  • He knew he was executing a new Will because he had asked two people to witness it.
  • The builder had not known what was in his Will before the man had shown it to him.

Operative date

  • Now

Recommendations

  • A person seeking to challenge a Will on grounds the Will-maker did not know and approve its contents should be aware they must satisfy a strict test in order to succeed.

Case ref: Sharp v Hutchins [2015] EWHC 1240

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