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Can a will executed just one day before marriage by the same marriage be annulled? We take a look at this latest interesting case.
Latimer in Caranoli (2023) EWHC 1524 (CH)
Effie Kaludecki, a former surgeon, was battling cancer when she decided to marry her partner, Dr. Latimer.
Effie asked her friend to arrange a Greek Orthodox ceremony in the chapel at her residence. She also asked him to help draft her will; The first and only one you will ever craft. The will and religious ceremony were drawn up on December 27, 2018, and the legal marriage took place the following day. Sadly, Evie passed away a few days later on December 31, 2018.
The unusually short time frame within which these major events took place may beg the question: Surely Wills considered marriage? However, the case was taken to the Supreme Court where the decision proved not to be so simple.
Effie had a large estate worth about £10 million in assets (£3 million of which were in England). Under the disputed will, this estate will be divided six ways. However, if the will was set aside, her entire English estate would pass under Dr. Latimer’s (plaintiff) intestate rules. Effie’s sister (the defendant), who would have benefited from the will, sought a defense of Dr. Latimer’s claim that the will was invalid.
Although drawn up only the day before, Effie’s will, perhaps unusually, made no reference to an upcoming marriage.
By bringing suit for summary judgment, Dr. Latimer endeavored to prove that the marriage voided the will, that Effie’s sister had no real hope of successfully defending the allegation, and that there was no other compelling reason why the case should proceed to a full trial.
In her defence, Effie’s sister raised a number of points, chief among them that the will failed to reflect Effie’s intentions – namely, that the will was clearly intended to continue the marriage although no express clause to that effect was included, as with the will. The case if it was professionally drafted. “My last and only will” can probably be interpreted as having this effect. It also raised issues regarding Effie’s ability to marry.
What the court found clear was that the marriage was indeed valid, as Effie was shown to have the power to marry at that time. The threshold for this is relatively low and does not require the person to know that the marriage will result in the annulment of the will. The court also does not have the power to declare a domestic marriage void on grounds of public policy, and the conditions for challenging a posthumous marriage are very limited.
Ultimately, the court decided that Effie’s sister had a real chance of defending Dr. Latimer’s claim, on the grounds that Effie’s friend may have made a clerical error when drafting the will or failed to properly understand her wishes. On this basis, the court found it possible to rectify a will on this basis, despite the basic position that marriage annuls a will. These issues with further evidence are scheduled to be determined in a full trial.
What is evident from this case is the court’s power of interpretation, which is more likely to be exercised in unorthodox circumstances such as those in which the will was drawn up by a lay person so close to marriage and death. However, it also illustrates the legal force of marriage, as the court’s hands may ultimately be tied in circumstances where there is less room for interpretation.
In recent years, the Law Commission has been examining the blanket position of annulment of wills by marriage, and further consultations are scheduled for this fall. We remain interested in hearing the outcome of this consultation and the full trial.
Originally published August 15, 2023
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject. It is advised to take the advice of specialists in such circumstances.
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