According to research conducted in 2016, 59% of UK adults have not written a will. Parting from this world without a legally valid will, is likely to cause undue stress on family members whilst resulting in unnecessary legal disputes.
It is important to note, that a will needs to be well-written and very specific in the language used throughout. If it is not, then this can leave your will open to a legal challenge. In this blog post, we’re explaining why is so important using clear language in your will.
What Can Happen If Clear Language Is Not Used In Your Will
To help you understand why it’s so important to use clear language in your will, we’ve decided to highlight the following recent story.
The story centres around the will of a distinguished physicist by the name of Mr. Michael Crowley-Milling. Mr. Crowley-Milling died in 2012 when he was 95. His wife had died before him and they had no children together. His only living relatives after he passed were his brother’s children and grandchildren; a total of three people.
Mr Crowley-Milling had written two wills before his death. One was a Swiss will, which dealt specifically with his Swiss assets. After his passing, there were no issues with this particular will. In it he left his £500k worth of Swiss assets to the Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific institution.
His other will was an English will. This is the will where the issues laid. Mr Crowley-Milling had a substantial amount of finances that he left behind after his death. He had an account on the Isle of Man with £250k in it. His other account had £600k and was located in Jersey.
In his English will, he had stipulated that he wanted the funds from these accounts to be divided amongst his only living relatives and the Royal Society. However, there was some specific language in this will that caused issues in the UK courts and legal system that left his will open to legal challenges.
The language Mr Crowley-Milling used specified accounts and assets located in the United Kingdom. To most people, it was obvious he was referring to his accounts in the Isle of Man and Jersey as well. However, the big problem was that the Isle of Man and Jersey are not legal territories governed under UK jurisdiction.
This ambiguity led the UK Courts to decide that all funds from the two accounts would go to his only living relatives and not to the Royal Society as he had wanted.
And this is where his will and the ambiguity of the language in his will, allowed the Royal Society to mount a legal challenge.
Challenge Mounted By The Royal Society
Representing the Royal Society, Richard Wilson argued that the definition of the United Kingdom should not be given its usual technical meaning and sought to challenge Mr Crowley-Milling’s will.
Mr. Wilson argued that Mr. Crowley-Milling was not aware of this technical legal definition. When he referred to the United Kingdom in his will, he was also referring to his assets located in the Isle of Man and Jersey. Mr Wilson argued that the will should be interpreted to include the Isle of Man and Jersey in this instance.
For example, a key point Mr. Wilson pointed out was that in the will, it didn’t specifically mention the Isle of Man but it did say that £200k should be given to his two grandchildren.
Yet, the only fund that had £200k in it was the fund in the Isle of Man despite it not being specifically stated as the account referenced. The will simply referred to this asset as being in the United Kingdom as such.
The Result Of The Challenge
In the end, the UK courts accepted the arguments presented by Mr. Wilson based on evidence from various letters, notes, and other correspondence, which led the courts to believe that Mr. Crowley-Millings did refer to those accounts as if they were in the UK. At the time his will was written, it was a common practice for people in the UK to refer to the Isle of Man and Jersey as the UK as well. The Courts believed that this is also what Mr. Crowley-Milling thought when he wrote his will.
In the end, the Royal Society was able to get the £600k from the fund in Jersey as Mr. Crowley-Millings had wanted.
The key lesson in all of this is don’t use ambiguous and unclear language in your will. As demonstrated by this specific case, it can cause headaches and undue stress on loved ones in the process of combating legal challenges.
If Mr. Crowley-Milling had been more specific in the language used and taken more care to ensure that there would be no legal ambiguities after his passing, then these legal challenges would never have occurred in the first place.
The only real way to guarantee a will is legally valid and unambiguous is to get it drafted and reviewed by a legal professional.
Don’t fall into the temptation to use templates online either, as they rarely cover specific circumstances. Always get your will drafted by a legal expert if you want to completely avoid legal issues and ensure your will won’t be susceptible to any legal challenges after your passing.