What happens when a contingent gift made in a will fails?

Our will dispute solicitors deal with a wide variety of disputes. Will dispute cases may involve a challenge to the validity of a will, for example due to lack of testamentary capacity or undue influence. On some occasions, our team deal with will disputes which relate to how the provisions of a will are interpreted.

The recent case of MacIntrye v Oliver (2018) was a dispute relating to how a will was to be interpreted and whether certain conditional gifts made in that will had failed.

This case was about the will and estate of the late Violet Hamblen-Thomas. Mrs Hamblen-Thomas made contingent gifts in her will which were considered by the executors to be invalid. A contingent gift is basically where a gift in a will is given subject to a condition precedent.

Mrs Hamblen-Thomas’ will, which was executed in 1968, left her residuary estate in trust for her son Edwin during his lifetime and to his children (if any) after his death.

The provisions of the Will stated as follows:

“In the event of [Edwin] dying without leaving children as aforesaid my Trustees shall hold my estate on trust for the said Enid Simpson absolutely but should she predecease me then on trust for the said Victoria Wallis absolutely”

Enid Simpson was a friend of Miss Hamblen-Thomas and Victoria Wallis was Enid’s daughter.

Mrs Hamblen-Thomas died in 1973. Enid died in 1998 and Edwin died in 2014. Whilst Edwin had died childless, Enid had died before Edwin and the provisions in the Will had not dealt with what would happen in this scenario. This led to uncertainty as to  what Miss Hamblen-Thomas’ wishes actually were.

The executors contended that because the gift to Enid was contingent upon Edwin’s death, the gift had not vested in Enid prior to his death and consequently that the gift had failed. In addition, they suggested that because Enid did not die before Mrs Hamblen-Thomas, that the gift to Victoria Wallis had also failed. Victoria contested this interpretation of the Will and the executors made an application to court for further directions.

The court applied the reasoning from the historic case of Jones v Westcomb (a 1711 case) and decided that Mrs Hamblen-Thomas must have intended the gift to Enid to take effect in the event that Enid predeceased Edwin and gave effect to this presumed intention. The evidence showed that the Deceased’s relationship with Enid was extremely close. The outcome of the case was that the Deceased’s residuary estate passed to Enid’s daughter Victoria.

If you require advice concerning the interpretation of a will, contesting a will or if you wish to discuss an inheritance dispute, please contact our contentious probate lawyers on 01902 424927 for an initial free consultation. We can often act for clients in relation to will disputes and probate disputes on a “no win no fee” basis.