“Whaddya Mean?” – Interpreting a Will
Joan Edward’s Will has received widespread media coverage over the last few days. She passed away last December, aged 90 having bequeathed £520,000 to “whichever government is in office in their absolute discretion to use as they think fit.” The money was divided between the coalition parties based on their number of ministers and MPs. The Conservatives received £420,576 and the Liberal Democrats, £99,423.
The Daily Mail investigated and criticised the two parties for accepting the money as party political donations rather than using it for the good of the nation.
The solicitors who drafted it (who were also appointed as executors and trustees) stated that when Joan had made her Will, they specifically checked with her that the bequest was to go to a political party. But crucially, the will does not say this – it is a clear example of poor drafting. One Labour MP branded the coalition’s interpretation of the donation as ‘dodgy’.
After great public and political pressure both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have decided to donate the windfall to the treasury and announced that it would be used to reduce the national debt.
After the money had been handed over to the treasury a Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “The decision to give the money to the political parties was taken solely by the executors of the Will. The party accepted the donation in good faith.”
Many people reading about Joan’s story will question the purpose of making a Will if it results in disputes between the respective beneficiaries, and those omitted.
Although this case is unique, it highlights the importance of communication between a client and their solicitor when making a Will. Partner Sarah Young, who specialises in contentious probate at Huddersfield firm Ridley & Hall comments:
“It’s important to seek professional advice when you want to make a Will. As this case shows, it doesn’t always prevent a dispute but it can significantly reduce the risk of a challenge. You should ideally see a solicitor accredited by Solicitors for the Elderly and check your Will carefully before you sign it.”
In relation to the Joan Edwards case she says:
“In this case, potentially the political parties could sue the solicitors for professional negligence – but it’s unlikely that they will given the further bad publicity that would be involved!”
Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley & Hall solicitors. She specialises in contentious probate law and has a record of bringing the most complex cases to a successful conclusion.
For further information please contact Sarah Young at Ridley & Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield, HD1 2HL on 01484 538421 or mobile 07860 165850.