Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Joan Edwards' Will: Ross v Caunters negligence?

One of the many ways of introducing law students to the joys of tort law and negligence is to make them read two offbeat cases featuring solicitors. The first, Ross v Caunters, involved a legacy under a will being rendered void because the beneficiary’s husband had been allowed to witness the will, contrary to the Wills Act. The second, White v Jones, saw the solicitors failing to draw up a testator’s intended new will before he died, and as a result his daughters – not named as beneficiaries under the old will – inherited nothing.

Why are they offbeat? Because in each case, the solicitors’ client – the testator – had died. The aggrieved beneficiaries were not the solicitors’ clients. But they succeeded in negligence claims against the solicitors because of the clear link between their interests and the solicitors’ responsibility towards their clients.

This makes today’s political storm (in a teacup?) over Joan Edwards’ will all the more interesting. As the Conservatives and Lib Dems take steps to hand back their shares of the legacies that the deceased left to “whichever Government is in office at the date of my death for the Government in their absolute discretion to use at they think fit” – no mention of political parties there – out comes a press release from Davis Wood, the solicitors who drafted the will: -

“…it was confirmed by Miss Edwards at the time of her instructions that her estate was to be left to whichever political party formed the Government at the date of her death.”

OK then, Dave and Nick. It looks as if your parties may have just lost out on a whopping great inheritance, all because a firm of solicitors made a bit of a cock up. Where there’s blame, there’s a claim. What have you got to lose by suing the pants off them and indirectly recouping the legacy that is now all set to disappear into the gigantic morass of government waste (that both of you are still perpetuating)? It might even be cast iron, to coin a phrase.

Well, if you did, you might make your respective parties look just as shifty and underhand as your troughing members in the last Parliament when the Telegraph exposed their house flipping, dry rot claims, moat cleaning, duck house purchasing and all the rest of their dodgy expenses claims. But that’s surely only a minor detail. Go for it!

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