A stark example of this, in the context of will drafting and estate administration, is reflected by the announcement made last year by both Coalition Government parties that they would be returning legacies totalling £520,000 to an estate.

This relates to the estate of 90-year-old Joan Edwards, who died in 2012. Unusually, her 2001 will stated that her net residuary estate (the balance remaining after all liabilities and other legacies had been paid) should be held for “whichever Government is in office at the date of my death for the Government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit”.

The controversy which prompted the political parties’ offer to return their legacies surrounded the fact that Ms Edwards’ executors had interpreted her above will instructions in a particular way. They decided to divide the £520,000 bequest between the two government parties. This meant that approximately £100,000 was paid to the Liberal Democrats and £420,000 to the Conservative Party directly. Did Ms Edwards intend for that occur, or would she have anticipated that her estate would be more generally used to benefit the country?

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Indeed, it has been reported that Lord Prescott commented that the funds should be returned as they were “left to the nation”.

The solicitors who prepared the will (who are also the executors of Ms Edwards’ estate) have apparently issued a statement confirming that, when the will instructions were obtained, they queried the unusual nature of the proposed bequest. Ms Edwards had apparently confirmed that the estate was to be left to “whichever political party formed the Government” at the date of her death.

Whilst it may initially appear that there was no scope for any misinterpretation, the will refers to whichever “Government” is in power rather than whichever “political party formed the Government”.

It is therefore not uncommon for there to be a real chasm between the outcome anticipated by a testator and what their will and executors later achieve.

Ultimately, there are three stages to ensuring that a testator’s wishes are carried out. The first involves ensuring that they consider obtaining specialist legal advice. The second is that the will which is prepared is valid, well drafted, up-to-date and accurately reflects their goals.

The third is that their executors either understand, or take reasonable steps to ascertain, the testator’s intentions and then implement their wishes.

Will preparation

In Ms Edward’s estate, an absolute discretion was given in the will for the “Government” to use the money as they saw fit. One interpretation of this was applied by her executors. However, another interpretation might be that these funds were intended for the benefit of the public purse, rather than specific lump sums being given to each political party.

That is why will preparation requires absolute clarity and the foundation of this is always good communication between the testator and their professional advisers.

It is crucial for any adviser to ensure that the testator’s goals are achievable, their wishes are accurately recorded and that they are made aware of any potential problems which might arise from the contents of their will. In order to minimise the risk of future problems, some key questions to consider include: