Mirror Wills are usually very straightforward and if one person dies the other would inherit. However, a recent case heard in the High Court shows that even this is not always the situation. In Jump v Lister the claimants asked the court to confirm that pecuniary gifts and legacies left in a set of mirror Wills should be paid out twice rather than once.
In this particular case a couple, Mr and Mrs Winston, had executed Mirror Wills that left a number of pecuniary gifts and legacies to individuals and named charities. The idea would be that the gifts and legacies would be dispersed on the second death. Both Wills contained a survivorship clause that meant the surviving partner would need to survive for at least twenty eight days following the first death for the terms of the Will to take effect.
And that is where the problem arose.
Difference of Opinion
The claimants, both of who were residual beneficiaries, brought the case against the Will writers even though, if the case was proved, they would be worse off. The motivation was partly driven by some of the named charities who believed that the claimant interpretation of double payment was the correct one. The defendants argued that the deceased couple’s intent was clearly to pay the legacies only once. In fact Mr Winson had specifically asked for confirmation that this would be the case when the Wills were being drawn up and this was confirmed by the defendant.
The court was being asked to decide whether the interpretation of the Will should lie with the claimant or the defendant.
In delivering his verdict the judge did make the point that an opportunity had been missed to amend the Will such that the anomaly being argued could have been avoided and he was surprised that such an alteration had not been applied for. As it happened the judge was persuaded that such an alteration may not have been successful in practice.
In this particular case the issue rested with the wording ‘Any Person’ in relation to the twenty eight days survivorship. The judge decided that the interpretation should be as used in common language and therefore Mr Winson would come into this understanding. If, in the Will, an exception for Mrs Winson’s husband had been added to the phrase ‘Any Person’ then the issues raised in this particular case would not have arisen and gifts and legacies would only have been awarded once.