The case of Richard Guest v. the Executors of Tracey Leaning has highlighted the importance of making a Will with a lawyer’s assistance and keeping it up-to-date.
In an appearance on ITV’s This Morning and an interview with the Daily Mail in 2017, Richard Guest explained that he is in dispute with four charities over the estate of his late partner, Tracey Leaning.
Mr Guest and Ms Leaning met in 2008 and bonded over their shared love of dogs. Sadly, Ms Leaning was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and died in 2015. Before she met Mr Guest, Ms Leaning had prepared a Will with a solicitor in 2007, in which she left her entire estate to the Dogs Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, Friends of the Animals and Heart Research UK.
Following her cancer diagnosis and without informing Mr Guest, Ms Leaning prepared a new homemade Will which altered her wishes so that Mr Guest would inherit her entire estate, consisting of her house, belongings and cash, if he gave her three dogs a home for the rest of their lives.
The four charities are challenging the validity of the Will’s homemade format - handwritten, some of it on a greetings card - and have claimed that it may not have been witnessed correctly, as the signature page was separate to the other pages.
Disputes over Wills can be distressing, time-consuming and expensive for all involved. Mr Guest revealed that he has already spent £10,000 in legal fees fighting the charities. This case is the latest in a long line highlighting the importance of making a Will, keeping it up-to-date and ensuring that it has been prepared and signed properly.
The case of Vucicevic v Aleksic highlights further issues caused by ambiguities contained in a homemade will. The testator was a British citizen originally from Montenegro and was not fluent in written English. His Will made in 2012 was very informal and unclear, with no named executor and containing alterations and anomalies.
Most of these issues were resolved with relative ease. An application to the Attorney General to divide a legacy, erroneously intended for ‘Brit. Cancer Research’, between several British cancer research charities. With regard to an alteration to another legacy allocation in the Will, the judge applied the doctrine of ‘dependant relative revocation’ whereby the revocation of a legacy is conditional on the effective substitution of another. In this case, as the substituted legacy could not be effective because it was deemed to be made after the Will was executed, the condition on which the revocation was based did not take effect either and the original legacy stood.
The most complex issue to resolve concerned the majority of the testator’s £2million estate being left to the Serbian Orthodox Church but without specifying a particular church. Eventually, by using external evidence, the Court was able to interpret the Will to act upon what they perceived to be the testator’s intentions. It held that an absolute gift should be made to the London Serbian Orthodox Church, based on the testator’s connection to the UK.