Taking Care When Drafting Your Will

Marley v Rawlings is the case where an elderly couple – Alfred and Maureen Rawlings based in England – prepared , almost identical Wills in 1999 where they each left everything to each other with a gift to their ‘adopted’ son, Terry Marley.
Mr and Mrs Rawlings had two natural sons; however, because adopted son Terry had looked after them and both their natural sons had money of their own, they wanted Terry to be the sole beneficiary of their estate worth £70k.

Invalid Will

Due to a mistake by their solicitor, Mr Rawlings signed Mrs Rawlings’ Will and vice versa.
Mrs Rawlings died in 2003 and her estate passed to her husband with no-one noticing the mistake. But, when Mr Rawlings died three years later, his natural sons spotted the mistake and they challenged its validity. They argued that because of this mistake , the will was invalid and therefore Terry should not be entitled to receive the 70k. ( if the will was recognised as invalid , then under normal ‘rules of succession’, they would inherit everything)

The ‘Clerical’ Error

The natural brothers and stepson Terry all went to court to dispute this and the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Terry. The arguments revolved around whether this was a ‘clerical error.’ Under the existing law ( s.20 of the Administration of Justice Act 1982 (AJA 1982)) a will could be rectified if there was a ‘clerical error” but was this really an example of a clerical error? However, the court applied a fairly liberal interpretation and ruled that it was.
The supreme court said that in the same way as resolving a contract dispute, the court should look towards other evidence which would give an indication of the intention of the parties at the time they drafted the will . Looking at the big picture, Mr and Mrs Rawlings wills were signed on the same date, by a husband and wife, and they had the same witnesses. On this basis, their intention to leave the money to Terry was not in dispute.

This decision sparked a lot of discussion at the time as it was felt that the meaning of ‘clerical error’ had been widened and this undermined the strict formalities around drafting a will which are after all in place to ensure clarity and to prevent fraud.

Although this was a case in England , you may be asking what is the relevance of this in Singapore? Well, Section 28 of the new Wills Act in Singapore also allows a court to order rectification of a will due to clerical error!

As at the date of writing this post, no cases under section 28 in Singapore have been heard but no doubt this is just a matter of time.


What this does mean however, is that when you draft a will, you need to be absolutely certain that your instructions are correct and correct on paper – otherwise your beneficiaries could dispute it in a court and it could be held invalid.