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Unclear Wording of Will Leads to Failure

14 September 2012

A man who failed to make his intentions clear in his handwritten will left the court to decide the meaning of the trusts he had created.

The man had written a will which ‘empowered’ the trustee of his estate to make educational scholarships for ‘promising’ relatives ‘deserving’ of assistance. The will referred to a list of these relatives, but the list was never created.

Most of the man’s estate was held on trust for his widow during her lifetime. The will also provided that if she remarried, the balance of the estate would be ‘devoted’ to the deserving relatives.

The administration of the estate devolved to the public trustee, who sought clarity on the meaning of the terms of the trusts created by the will.

Nearly 12 years passed between the death of the man’s widow and the action being brought to court, a fact on which the judge commented adversely, noting that the delay may well have had an adverse effect on some beneficiaries of the estate.

The court concluded that the wording of the will was just too uncertain to allow identification of those who were intended to benefit under the trust provisions. These accordingly failed.

This case shows how important it is to make sure that any document intended to have legal effect is created in correct legal form.

In this case, the man’s wishes were not carried out because, although the intent was clear, the identities of those he intended to benefit could not be ascertained given the wording used.

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