Key Practice Areas
Court Declares That Handwritten Document Is NOT a Will
Type of Case: Deceased Estate Litigation – Contesting the Validity of a Will
The Situation: We appeared in the Supreme Court to argue a case involving a handwritten document that had some appearance of being a will. The person who wrote the document was a barrister who retired in 2004 and passed away in 2014. Section 18 of the Succession Act says, in a nutshell, that if a document was intended to be a will, then the court can declare that it is a will even if it hasn’t been properly signed and witnessed. The document in question included a list of his assets, and a list that looked like gifts to be made by a will.
The Result: The judge agreed with our argument that the deceased did not intend the document to be a will; rather, it was a set of notes that appeared to be intended to help him gather his thoughts for making a will. One of the key factors in the decision was that the document had not been signed. Also, it did not appoint an executor, and it did not mention any gift of the “residue” of his estate. And he had plenty of opportunity to formalise it into a will if he had wanted to, as he wrote the document in 2007 (seven years before he died). The judge ordered that all parties’ legal costs of the court proceeding were to be paid by the deceased’s estate. Which is surely a good enough reason why everyone should pay a professional to prepare a proper will; anything else is false economy.
As every case is different, the cases reported here cannot be taken as an indication of a similar outcome being likely in your case, and these reports are not to be taken as legal advice about your particular situation.