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Lack of Knowledge and Approval

Understanding and approving the content of a will is crucial. In this video, Partner and Head of Private Wealth Disputes, Roman Kubiak, explores the legal considerations surrounding knowledge and approval, highlighting the legal presumptions which apply and how those can be overturned, including suspicious circumstances which may lead to the will being set aside.

Presumption of Knowledge and Approval

By default, where a will is singed and witnessed and has an attestation clause, the law presumes that a person knew and approved it. However, exceptions arise, for instance in cases where a will is signed on behalf of someone who is mute or blind, where the will has no attestation clause or where there are suspicious circumstances.

 

Overturning the Presumption – Suspicious Circumstances

The presumption of knowledge and approval can be overturned where there are suspicious circumstances. Examples include:

  1. Beneficiary’s Involvement:If a person who benefits under the will played a significant role in its preparation, the presumption may be challenged.
  2. Physical or Mental Impairment:A person suffering from physical or mental impairment may be vulnerable to influence. For instance, signing a will while intoxicated may raise doubts about knowledge and approval.
  3. Failure to Explain Contents:If a solicitor fails to explain the will’s contents to the testator, it may indicate a lack of understanding.
  4. Fraud or Misrepresentation:Any suggestion of fraud or misrepresentation can cast doubt on the validity of the will.
  5. Divergence from Earlier Wills:A will significantly different from prior ones or known wishes may be subject to scrutiny.

 

Case Example – Gill v Woodall [2010] EWCA Civ 1430

The case of Gill v Woodall illustrates the impact of severe agoraphobia on knowledge and approval. Mrs Gill, under the influence of a domineering husband, was taken to a solicitor to make a will. Expert medical evidence revealed her panic and anxiety at being forced to leave her house and which rendered her unable to know and approve her will. As a result, the court set the will aside.

 

Key Factors in Contesting Wills

Contesting wills often involves examining medical evidence, the will-making file, and witness accounts from those who knew the testator. These elements collectively contribute to building a case, particularly in matters related to testamentary capacity and knowledge and approval.

 

Conclusion

Ensuring knowledge and approval is vital for the validity of a will. While legal presumptions exist, cases involving suspicious circumstances require careful consideration of evidence.

If you have concerns over a will or are facing a will dispute contact us to speak to one of our lawyers.


Key contact

Roman Kubiak is a partner and head of the market leading Contested Wills, Trusts and Estates team.

He advises across the whole spectrum of private wealth disputes, with a particular focus on high value, complex and cross-border disputes including: trust disputes, breach of trust claims and applications to remove trustees; will disputes, particularly those with an international element; claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975; and claims for equitable relief under proprietary estoppel, constructive trusts and resulting trusts.

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