Homes & Gardens: An unusual Will interpretation dispute

Charlotte Dullaway reports on a recent success in an unusual Will interpretation dispute

We recently represented Mr J in a probate dispute arising as a result of conflicting interpretations of his late aunt’s Will.

Mr J’s aunt left her 'house' to him under the terms of her Will. You would think a bequest like this would be quite straightforward. However, it transpired that, due to the propery being purchased decades apart, the garden land was held under a different title number to the actual house itself. Upon discovering this, the executor, who was also one of the residuary beneficiaries, interpreted the Will in such a way that the gift to Mr J was of the 'house' on its own and not the garden. This meant that the house would pass to Mr J, but the garden would form part of the residue of the estate, ultimately benefitting the executor.

Mr J’s interpretation of the Will was that the garden passed to him as part of the gift of the house. The house, he said, included the garden. He argued that his aunt had not specifically mentioned the garden in the Will as she considered it to be part of her house and it would not have occurred to her that anyone would seek to separate the two. Mr J therefore appointed us to deal with the Will interpretaion dispute.

We agreed with Mr J's interpretation. When his aunt had referred to her 'house' she was clearly intending that this term would also include the garden.

However, due to the very nature of a Will interpretation dispute the key witness - the aunt - couldnt be called upon and there was little evidence to support either interpretation. We therefore undertook enquiries to obtain secondary evidence to support our interpretaion. The dispute was finally resolved when witness evidence was obtained from people who knew Mr J's aunt confirming that she would not have treated the house and garden separately.

This witness evidence made it very likely that a court would agree with Mr J's interpretation of the Will.

The executor therefore agreed to transfer both the garden and house to our client, knowing that if he lost in court he would face a substantial claim for legal costs.

If you are involved in a Will interpretation dispute or require legal assistance in interpreting a Will then give us a call on 0808 139 1596 or drop us an email with details of your case.