Signing the wrong will. It sounds like a mistake that could never happen, but in reality it does. It is essential that the testator pays rigorous attention to what they are doing and specifically what they are signing. Witnesses also need to look at the documents. Their presence isn’t enough; they need to know exactly what they are witnessing, especially if there is some detail that they missed which becomes part of a contestation of the will!
If you think that this doesn’t happen, that it isn’t possible, then the case of Marley v Rawlings might change your mind.
Mr and Mrs Rawlings prepared their wills at the same time. They each left their estate to their surviving spouse, with other beneficiaries inheriting part of the estate if their spouse had already died. One of these beneficiaries was a Mr Marley who, although not related to the couple, was regarded as a member of the family.
Unfortunately, what no one, including the solicitor and the witnesses, noticed at the time, and for some time afterwards, was that Mr Rawlings had signed Mrs Rawlings’ will, and vice versa.
When Mrs Rawlings died, her part of the estate went straight to Mr Rawlings without any problems. The mistake regarding the signature was not picked up at that point. It wasn’t, in fact, until Mr Rawlings also died that the error was found.
What did it mean?
In short, it meant that Mr Rawlings’ will was made invalid, which in turn meant that his estate became subject to intestacy rules. Mr Marley, therefore, was no longer able to inherit his share, since he was not a blood relation of Mr Rawlings.
It was touch and go as to whether the will would be able to be rectified when Mr Marley contested it. This was not purely a clerical error, such as a typo, which would have been easy to fix. This was a will that was, in reality, unsigned, at least by the person to whom it related. In the end, the judge found that, since Mr Rawlings’ intentions were clear, the will could be changed to reflect that, and therefore Mr Marley could inherit his share.
The court case took time, money, and energy to resolve, all of which could have been avoided if the solicitor, the witnesses, and the testators themselves had taken the time to read what was being signed.
As a businessperson as well as a probate professional, it makes perfect sense to me, to cater for public demand as much as possible.
I am confused therefore, to learn that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has decided to withdraw its genealogical tracing service, due to unforeseen demand.
The problem as far as I can tell is that its call centre is struggling to cope with the amount of calls received, so instead of identifying and allocating additional resources, it has instead decided to shut down the service.
The service level self-imposed by the SRA was to answer a call within 60 seconds (which seems a long time to me, anyway). However, research showed that only 17% of calls were being answered within this time.
In future, all genealogical tracing calls will be dealt with by the Law Society library, leaving the SRA call centre to focus instead on its other, presumably less popular services. If you need help with Genealogy services please do not hesitate to get in touch