Will construction disputes and rectification

Disputes can arise in relation to the correct interpretation of words or phrases used in a will.  Wills are not always drafted as well as they might be so sometimes it can be unclear as to what the testator meant by particular words or phrases in his or her will. 

The most common disputes that arise in relation to the interpretation of wills are:

  • Ambiguous descriptions of property disposed of in the will.
  • Problems with identification of the extent of the interests given by the will.
  • Problems with identification of the beneficiaries named in the will.

If the will is ambiguous, and the beneficiaries are not all able collectively to agree how the ambiguous will should be interpreted, it will be for the court to decide its meaning. 

There are specific rules of interpretation provided for in legislation as well as in case law. 

The starting point is that the court must interpret the will in the light of the actual words used. The power of the court to supply, omit or change words, as part of this interpretation process (known as "construction"), is very limited.  It may be obvious to the parties that an error has been made in the wording, but the court cannot supply, omit or change words if the wording makes sense on the face of the words used. 

Where the will does not include the true intentions of the testator it may be possible to bring a claim for rectification.  The court will order a will to be rectified to carry out the testator's true intentions where the will fails to do so due to a clerical error or the will writer's failure to understand the testator's actual intentions.  On an application for rectification the court is able to consider the wider circumstances surrounding the making of the will.

Where the will does not include the true intentions of the testator because of poor drafting it may be possible to bring a professional negligence claim against the will writer.

Issues of construction and interpretation (and their related claims) can be difficult to resolve, and we strongly recommend that specialist legal advice is sought without delay in these cases.  If you would like advice on these issues, or indeed on any other inheritance or trust dispute, please contact our Disputed Wills, Trusts and Estates Team by telephone on +44 (0)1884 203 018 or FREEPHONE 0800 0931336, or by email willdisputes@ashfords.co.uk

Key Contact

Robert Horsey

Partner and Location Head, Tiverton

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+44 (0)800 0931336


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