Want to Keep Your Will a Secret? High Court Ruling Underlines the Pitfalls

Tensions simmer within many families and, when making your will, you may wish to keep its contents secret from your loved ones so as to avoid feeding the fire. As a High Court case showed, however, that makes it all the more vital to engage a solicitor to assist you in expressing your wishes.

By his will, a moderately prosperous businessman bequeathed all that he owned to his wife. The document was dated just over a month before he died in hospital. One of his daughters, who would have inherited part of his estate had he died without making a valid will, challenged its authenticity.

Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the case was unusual in that there was no evidence as to how the will was created. There was no record of instructions having been given to a solicitor and it was unclear whether the document was home-made or expertly drafted. In the absence of professional involvement, the identity of the will's author itself remained uncertain.

There were certain suspicious circumstances surrounding the making of the will, not all of which could be explained. However, in upholding the document's validity, the Court rejected arguments that it was the product of a large-scale conspiracy, perpetrated by several people and persisted in for a long period.

The wording of the will was, at least in part, apparently based on a foreign precedent and the Court was satisfied that it was not the work of a professional well versed in English law. The document was capable of being a valid will, however, and its contents made complete rational sense in that there was no evidence that the man had any financial dependants other than his wife.

The decisive evidence, however, came from two witnesses to the will who testified that they had seen him sign it at his home. Given the rows and distrust that had riven his family, they complied with his request not to mention the will to anyone else. In the event, the document did not come to light until after his death.

In ruling that the will had been rightly admitted to probate, the Court was satisfied that, as required by law, the man had signed the document in the presence of two witnesses who had themselves subsequently appended their signatures to the document's attestation clause.