How Wills can be interpreted differently

Legal blog, written by our expert in this field, Paul Fleming (Solicitor) re Disputing the Interpretation of the Will or Specific Terms

Testators who did not receive good competent legal assistance in writing the Will might create confusion as to what was actually meant or they might cause legacies to fail. The wording in the Will might not cater for the scenario of the Deceased owning a replacement house at the time of their death ,or a new car, or a different bank account than the one named, or for relatives dying or new ones being born.  There are a set of ‘Rules of Construction’ arising from statute and reported law cases that tell Judges what to do in these scenarios. There is insufficient space here to mention them but we would be happy to assist if you

have a question.  Disputes can arise also over ambiguity in the wording. This could, for example, be a question as to which ‘Susan’ the Testator meant in respect of a certain gift: was it Susan, his sister, or Susan, his niece? One of the ‘Susans’ might later want to bring a claim, alleging that it was she that was meant to benefit from the gift.

Suffice to say that if the wording of a Will leaves room for doubt, there is a chance that somebody who could benefit from the doubt will feel inclined to assert a claim, preferring their own interpretation. If this cannot be agreed amicably, and the legacy is substantial, the aggrieved person or even the executors might have to apply to the Chancery Division of the High Court for a declaration of how the Will is to be construed.  We should mention here the Rule that a witness to a Will cannot benefit from a gift in the Will (which does not include a professional charging clause to a solicitor, accountant or suchlike). A gift or legacy to a witness creates a situation whereby the Will is still deemed valid but the legacy to the witness is cancelled.

Please contact us by email ( or phone 01243 532777 to make an appointment with Paul Fleming in his office at Owen Kenny, Old Market House, Market Avenue, Chichester PO19 1JR.