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Home made wills – problems of interpretation

By September 29, 2017January 29th, 2021Private Client

Although the testator had lived for many years in this country, his English was by no means perfect. In the handwritten will, the grammar is faulty, words are often misspelt and punctuation misplaced. This complicates the task of ascertaining the testator’s intention, but does not alter it. Bad English can still make a good will, as long as the testator’s meaning can be understood. Despite the difficulties, most of what the will provides is clear.

When Veljko Aleksic sat down to write his will it is unlikely that he would have thought the High Court would have to draw on evidence from a variety of sources to work out what his intentions were.  Mr Aleksic was an elderly man originally from Montenegro.  Although he had lived in the UK since the end of the second World War, his written english was imperfect.  The Court had to rely on evidence from the witnesses to the will to confirm it was executed correctly, from a forensic document examiner about changes to the will and from a Montenegrin lawyer about whether a house could be dealt under the law of England and Wales.The self-written will contained a number of cash legacies, but the bulk of the almost £2 million estate, consisting of properties in England, Wales and Montenegro, was to be left to the Serbian Orthodox Church to be used for the benefit of ‘people in need, particularly children’ in Kosovo.Problems occurred because the wording of the will was not clear, one of the cash gifts had been altered and the true value of the gift was uncertain, and the charitable intent to benefit people in Kosovo was problematic in the practicalities of how it could be administered.By using evidence to establish the testator’s intentions, the Court has established an interpretation of the will which will allow Mr Aleksic’s wishes to be honoured.This case highlights the problems that can occur if the terms of a will are uncertain, and also the lengths the court will go to in ascertaining the testator’s intentions. Taking proper legal advice when making a will is essential and could have easily avoided the problems that arose in this case.

Chris Burrows

Author Chris Burrows

Chris is a Senior Solicitor and is head of the firm's Private Client department.

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