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Want to leave a conditional gift in your Will? Make sure it’s correctly drafted

Careful consideration is vital when leaving someone a gift with conditions attached in your Will.

This is to make sure you don’t create potential problems for those you leave behind.

A recent High Court case has shown how even the best intentions can go awry if you don’t regularly review and update your Will and look ahead to how things might change in the future.

This particular case saw two adult children miss out on their share of the farming partnership their father would otherwise have had. This was because a condition of their grandfather’s Will they weren’t even aware of wasn’t met in time.

Background

When Mr Hines, the owner of a family farm, made his Will he left his interest in the farm to his wife and two of his children, John and Philip, in equal proportions.

But the gift he made to John and Philip was made subject to the condition that within nine months of his death, they each had to pay their brother Basil and sister Beryl £15,000.

If either of them failed to satisfy this condition, Mr Hine’s Will stated, their interest in the farm would pass to Basil and Beryl.

When things began to go wrong…..

Mr Hine died in 1992 with the time period on which the conditional gifts depended expiring nine months later on 4 October 1992.

John didn’t meet the deadline to give £15,000 to his siblings so his interest in the farm passed straight to Basil and Beryl, something which was not disputed in the court proceedings.

But Philip had died two years before his father in 1990 and so obviously, was not able to meet the condition set out in his father’s Will.

Philip’s children, Judith and Janet, brought the case to court claiming that they should have their father’s share of the farming estate.

They argued that either they should inherit free from the condition imposed on their father or be relieved of their obligation to comply with the nine-month condition because they hadn’t known about it in time to do so.

Outcome

Harsh though this seems, the judge in this case considered Mr Hines’ intentions crystal clear – his Will stated in no uncertain terms that the gift could only be made if the conditions he had stipulated were met within nine months of his death.

The ruling confirmed that the children of a beneficiary were bound by the same conditions as the beneficiary, hence Judith and Janet did not inherit.

It also confirmed that a beneficiary’s ignorance of a condition, or the ignorance of their children – in this case Judith and Janet – of a condition, does not make that condition impossible to fulfil.

Careful Will drafting

It is clear that careful drafting, and regular reviewing and updating, is vital when incorporating a conditional gift into a Will.

For instance, in this case, if Mr Hines had updated his Will after his son Philip’s death he could have made his intentions for Philip’s share of the estate clear. In this way, the long and expensive court battle that eventually ensued could almost certainly have been avoided.

For help and advice about making or reviewing your Will, please contact Wards Solicitors’ Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity team.

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