Man wins legal battle over clerical error in will


Close-up of the statue of Lady Justice, holding a sword and the scales of justice, located on top of the dome above the Old Bail

Terry Marley, who was taken in by Alfred and Maureen Rawlings as a teenager and treated as their son, has won a legal battle over their will. The couple, from Bermondsey in south London, had both written wills leaving everything to him. However, they had made the mistake of signing each other's documents.

A number of courts decided that this invalidated the wills - so the couple's natural sons should inherit - but the Supreme Court overturned the decision.

The Daily Mail reported that the couple had made identical wills in 1999, but had made the mistake of signing each other's documents - which isn't allowed. The couple had both passed away by 2006, at which point the problem emerged.

The couple's natural sons, Terry and Michael, used the mistake to challenge the will in the High Court. They successfully argued that the mistake made the documents void, so the couple died intestate, which meant the natural sons should inherit. The Law Gazette reported that even then the High Court recognised that the couple had wanted Marley to inherit, but said that they didn't have the power to change the wills.

Marley appealed, but the appeal court sided with Terry and Michael, so he took it to the Supreme Court, which has ruled in his favour.

The President of the Supreme Court said it was a 'clerical error' which could be rectified - so the wills were valid. It's thought to be a landmark decision, because before this ruling, only things like typos were considered to be clerical errors, whereas now mistakes made when preparing and filing the will can be included. In future there is the chance that more people's wishes will be carried out - rather than an admin error derailing their efforts.

More battles

However, this won't put an end to inheritance battles. As long as people have had money to squabble over, and family rifts to exploit, there have been battles over wills. Law firm Hugh James claims that the number of High Court cases contesting wills hit 663 in 2011 - more than double the number in 2006.

And some of the cases demonstrate just how far warring families are wiling to go. In February last year we reported on the family where three adult children had spent more money fighting over the will than their mother had left them in the first place. The judge in the case said: "The cost of contesting [the] will is a calamity for this family in every way. Even worse are the human consequences for a once close-knit and loving family."

The process can drag on alarmingly too. Two elderly princesses in India finally inherited £2.5 billion last year, after a 21-year legal battle. Their father died in 1989 and unexpectedly left everything to his staff. A third sister and their mother died before the case was concluded.

And the outcome of an inheritance row can be even more horrible. Earlier this month an 80-year-old from Maryland discovered that his mother had left everything to her grandson - overlooking him entirely. The elderly man drove to his son's house, and tried to shoot him in the head while he was sleeping. The younger man rolled over in his sleep, was shot in the arm and survived. His father was convicted of first-degree attempted murder.

Of course not all inheritance stories have sad endings. When Portuguese aristocrat, Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara, passed away in 2007, 70 strangers were informed that they had inherited money from him. He had picked their names at random from a telephone directory 13 years earlier.

The dead celebrity rich list

The dead celebrity rich list