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Case Study: 'Wills on Fire!'

Sometimes we get some really unusual cases here at Kings Court Trust; the outcome is sometimes a complete surprise to us. For example, what happens in the event of a will being destroyed?

We came across a really interesting case recently where the will was elaborately set on fire during a time when emotions took over, during a particularly stressful time for one of our families. We were able to offer advice on the situation and ensure that the results were as per the family’s wishes.

In 1986 the deceased made a will. 14 years later the will writer was asked to send her back the original will as well as copies to the executors.  At the time the deceased was very ill, this caused a lot of strain on the family, in particular the relationship between the now deceased mother and her daughter.

Our client, being the daughter, was the only child and very close to her mother. Emotions ran high and the daughter could not accept the possibility that her mother might die. Unfortunately the original will arrived in the post during this difficult time, this alarmed and upset the family greatly; the daughter subsequently destroyed the offending will by setting fire to it in the kitchen sink.

When the day came to administer the Mother’s estate, the first thing we had to do was to determine whether there was a will. Of course the original was destroyed, so Kings Court Trust was forced to work with copies of the original. We had to start the investigation by organising an affidavit to prove the copy will and to ascertain exactly what had happened. We identified the following: -

When my deceased mother received the original will she was seriously ill with heart disease. At the time both my mother and I were aware and somewhat concerned by the inopportune timing of the arrival of the will and I decided to destroy it. I therefore set fire to the will in our kitchen sink at the deceased’s direction and in her presence;

  • My mother never made another will as we both were of the opinion that it was tempting fate to do so;

To Kings Court’s surprise, the Probate Registry actually rejected this, as they were not convinced that the will was not destroyed under undue influence and so we were forced to administer the estate using the rules of Intestacy. The death occurred before the 1st October 2014, meaning the old rules of intestacy applied. We concluded that there was no surviving spouse and confirmed with a family tree check that the daughter was indeed an only child and therefore a sole beneficiary.

Luckily, in this instance, the rules of intestacy actually did not really change the position of the Estate or the desired outcome for the family. It just goes to show that every case can throw up some surprises and the end result is not always as you would expect.

Are you surprised by the Probate Registry’s decision to reject this case? Or do you think that it was the right decision to follow the rules of intestacy? What would you have advised in this situation?