A will is undoubtedly one of the most significant documents you will ever create in your lifetime. However, the recent case of Ingram & Whitfield v Abraham [2023] EWHC 1982 (Ch) serves as a poignant reminder that while a will does not necessarily need to be prepared or witnessed by a solicitor to be valid, professional involvement can make all the difference when it comes to ensuring the document’s integrity and adherence to the law.

The Background Story

In the case of Ingram & Whitfield v Abraham, we were confronted with a compelling dispute over a homemade will. This case underscores the vital role that legal professionals can play in will preparation and the potential consequences when their expertise is absent.

Joanna, a single mother, had previously engaged professionals to draft her will back in 2008, outlining her desire to leave her entire estate to her two children. However, when she sadly succumbed to a terminal illness in 2021, a new will emerged. This will, drafted in 2019, was markedly different from the 2008 version. Joanna had enlisted the help of her brother Simon to create this will, using an internet template. The 2019 will directed that her entire estate should go to Simon, except for her book collection, which was left to Simon’s wife. This dramatic departure from her earlier will raised suspicions and led to a legal challenge by her two children, the Claimants.

Simon’s argument rested on the premise that Joanna had clearly instructed him over the phone regarding the terms of the will. He claimed that he had drafted the will, read it back to Joanna, sent her an electronic copy, and subsequently delivered a bound version for her to sign. Joanna signed and retained the will, while Simon, in accordance with Joanna’s instructions, destroyed the 2008 will.

The Court’s Verdict

The Judge’s decision in this case hinged on a critical interpretation of Joanna’s intentions. The evidence suggested that Joanna wanted Simon to receive her estate, with the expectation that he would distribute it fairly between her two children, accounting for any lifetime gifts. Joanna wished to ensure an equitable distribution of her estate among her children, a sentiment expressed in several recorded conversations leading up to the execution of the 2019 will.

However, the 2019 will drafted by Simon, which named him as executor and beneficiary, failed to align with Joanna’s intentions. While she believed Simon would inherit her estate for the purpose of distributing it according to her wishes, her instructions had not been formally incorporated into the will. Consequently, Simon received Joanna’s entire estate as an outright gift, contrary to her wishes for equitable distribution.

The Judge ruled the 2019 will invalid, as Joanna did not fully comprehend its terms. He emphasised that had a lawyer been involved in drafting the will, they would have recognised the need to establish a discretionary trust in favor of Joanna’s children, with Simon acting as a trustee. Without legal assistance, Joanna unintentionally disinherited her children, contrary to the arrangements she sought to put in place.

Closing Thoughts

This case serves as a stark reminder of the importance of professional involvement when preparing a will. While it may be tempting to opt for a DIY approach or a low-cost online template, the consequences of an improperly drafted or invalid will can be substantial. A will is perhaps the most important document you will ever create, and cutting corners can prove to be a false economy. The cost of disputes and potential legal challenges that can arise from a poorly executed will can run into thousands of pounds, not to mention the emotional toll on your loved ones.

To safeguard your wishes and ensure that your estate is distributed according to your intentions, consulting a solicitor during the will preparation process is not just a prudent choice but a necessary one. The Ingram & Whitfield v Abraham case stands as a testament to this fact, underlining the pivotal role that legal professionals play in upholding the integrity of a will and ensuring its validity. Don’t leave the future of your loved ones and your legacy to chance; seek the expertise of a solicitor to create a valid and legally sound will that truly reflects your wishes. Your peace of mind and the well-being of your family are worth every investment.

If you would like to discuss your will matter, please get in touch with our specialist Private Client team.