There are a number of requirements that must be met for a will to be valid and one of these is that the signing of the will must be witnessed by two people who are not beneficiaries.
A recent case before the High Court turned on that point. It was brought by the long-estranged son of a man who died in 2011. The son only became aware of his father’s death in 2015 and brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 that financial provision should be made for him as he was not a beneficiary under his father’s will. Instead, the will left his estate to his friend and next-door neighbour, who was also appointed his executor. The will was a home-made one and was signed on the bonnet of a car in the man’s driveway.
The son had to apply to the court to proceed with his claim as the statutory time limit that applies in such cases had long passed. When he went to court, however, he contended that the will was not validly created and thus the estate should have been administered as if it had not existed. That would have resulted in the estate being divided between him and his half-brother.
The claim was based on the evidence of an enquiry agency which had interviewed the witnesses to the will. They had given conflicting evidence about the circumstances in which it had been signed. However, after hearing extensive evidence, and levelling considerable criticism at the enquiry agents regarding the manner in which they had obtained the witness statements, the judge ruled that the will had been validly signed. The conflict in the evidence of the will’s witnesses was explained, at least in part, by the fact that one of them suffers from some memory loss due to dementia.