WillsCase Review: Marley v Rawlings

9 April 2021by Chris Smith2
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There are a number of important cases that we will writers must have an understanding of. Not all law is statute based and many of these cases form the basis of the law that applies to wills.

This article will cover an overview of the facts and decision of Marley v Rawlings & Another [2014] UKSC 2.

Background

A will is only valid under S9 Wills Act 1837 if:

  1. it is in writing, and signed by the testator, or by some other person in his presence and by his direction; and
  2. it appears that the testator intended by his signature to give effect to the will; and
  3. the signature is made or acknowledged by the testator in the presence of two or more witnesses present at the same time; and
  4. each witness either—
    1. attests and signs the will; or
    2. acknowledges his signature, in the presence of the testator (but not necessarily in the presence of any other witness), but no form of attestation shall be necessary.

It is possible to rectify an error in a will under S20 Administration of Justice Act 1982.

If a court is satisfied that a will is so expressed that it fails to carry out the testator’s intentions, in consequence—

  1. of a clerical error; or
  2. of a failure to understand his instructions,

it may order that the will shall be rectified so as to carry out his intentions.

Facts

Mr and Mrs Rawlings prepared mirror wills in 1999 with a solicitor. Their wills left their estates to each other and on the death of the survivor to Mr Marley, Mr Marley was not related to the couple but they treated him as a son. Mr and Mrs Rawlings had two sons who were not provided for in the wills.

Unfortunately Mr Rawlings signed the will intended for his wife and Mrs Rawlings signed the will intended for her husband. Mrs Rawlings died and her estate passed to her husband with the error going unnoticed. It only came to light that an error had been made after Mr Rawlings’ death in 2006.

A dispute arose between Mr Marley and the two sons on whether Mr Rawlings will was valid and whether his estate should pass to Mr Marley under the will or to the two sons under intestacy. Mr Marley brought a claim to rectify the wills under S20 Administration of Justice Act 1982.

The High Court initially held that Mr Rawlings did not intend by his signature to his wife’s will to give effect to it as is required by S9(b) Wills Act 1837 and despite his intentions being clear the court could not rectify the will due to it not meeting the requirements of S9. Mr Marley appealed and the Court of Appeal agreed with this. Mr Marley then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Decision

The Supreme Court upheld the appeal. Stating that:

  • Although the will was mistakenly signed by Mr Rawlings, there was no doubt that it cannot be hers as she did not sign it and as Mr Rawlings signed the will it could only be his will. This satisfied the requirements of S9(a) Wills Act.
  • There was no doubt on the face of the will as well as from other evidence that Mr Rawlings’s intention at the time of signing was to give effect to it. This satisfied the requirements of S9(b) Wills Act.
  • It was still possible for Mr Marley to invoke S20 Administration of Justice Act 1982. Unless rectified the requirement that Mr Rawlings had full knowledge and approval of the will was not satisfied. If S20 could not be invoked to rectify a formally invalid will into a valid will, it would cut down its operation for no sensible reason.
  • The expression ‘clerical error’ in S20 should be given a wide meaning and can include mistakes due to preparing, filing, sending, organising the execution of documents except where it involves some special expertise. The error in this case was included within the definition of a clerical error.

It was held that the will should be rectified to include the typed parts of the will that was actually signed by Mrs Rawlings

2 comments

  • Colin James

    10 May 2021 at 10:57 am

    It is not relevant in this case, but it is worth pointing out that section 9 has now been amended and allows for signatures to be done by video conferencing. This however is currently only a temporary amendment until January 2022

    Reply

    • Chris Smith

      10 May 2021 at 7:33 pm

      Hi Colin,
      While you’re right that under the current temporary legislation a will witnessed remotely by video conferencing would be valid, we left that out of the body of this particular article as the ‘background’ section is providing an overview of the law that applied at the time of the case (2014).

      Reply

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