A last Will and testament is one of the most important documents that an individual will complete during their lifetime. It dictates where all of a person’s worldly possessions will end up once they have died. As life goes on and circumstances change, most people should and do revisit their last Will and, on occasion, decide to write a new Will.
In the modern world that we live in, it is not uncommon for relationships to breakdown and for an individual to then end up in a second, or even third long-term relationship. If the deceased was savvy enough during his/her lifetime, he/she will have modified his/her Will at appropriate times as their relationship status changes. This unfortunately can lead to conflicts between current and past partners once the deceased passes away. One such example of this is the case of Payne v Payne (2018).
The Battle Of Wills – Payne v Payne (2018)
The deceased had two marriages in his lifetime. The deceased had 4 children during his first marriage, which unfortunately ended in divorce. He remarried in 1998 and made his first Will shortly after this marriage. He made a second Will in 2012 shortly before he died. His second marriage resulted in no further children.
Upon death the first family and second family became embroiled in a bitter dispute. The son of the first marriage sought to rely upon the 2012 Will and brought proceedings to prove the same. The step-mother disputed this on the basis of forgery and improper execution, whilst propounding the 1998 Will.
At first instance, the second wife failed in her quest to rely upon the Will created in 1998.
On appeal, the second wife successfully managed to persuade the Court that she ought to be able to adduce new evidence from witnesses not previously called in the original trial, as to the validity of the 1998 Will, namely the attesting witnesses to the 1998 Will (a fairly obvious omission from the first trial). The original trial Judge had continued with the trial, notwithstanding the fact that the original of the 1998 Will was not available during the trial. The original of the 1998 Will was available during the Court of Appeal trial and demonstrated a completely different, and more consistent/comprehensive, picture to the various truncated photocopies adduced in the previous trial.
The Court of Appeal emphasised the strong public interest in valid testamentary documents being upheld and that in order for a Judge to pronounce against a Will, he ought to have the original of the document before him. The Court of Appeal therefore found that the trial Judge was wrong to have ruled against the 1998 Will on the evidence before the Court.
The case of Payne v Payne highlights the importance of original testamentary documents being placed before the Court at a final trial, when the validity of that document is in question and emphasises that the Court will be slow to overturn testamentary documents that appear on face value to have been validly executed, largely due to their being strong public policy grounds for upholding the same.