Guthrie v Morel, 2015 EWHC 3172 Ch concerned a legacy of a property referred to as ’87 Loma del Rey’, left by the deceased Brian Morel to Carol Guthrie.The property they shared was actually number 81 and the sons of the deceased therefore claimed that there was a partial intestacy of number 81, meaning it would come to them.

The will, dated 17 January 2003, took the form of a letter stating it was to be taken as “…my full and final expression of wish in regards to my will, estate and trust” and was witnessed by two people. Consideration was given to whether the will was in fact a will at all but it was acknowledged that probate had already been granted on 23 August 2012, and no challenge had been made to that grant or to the validity or otherwise of the document as a will by the parties.

The court in such circumstances can consider evidence about the deceased’s intentions and in this case considered other correspondence sent by the deceased around the time the will was made, who typed the will, alterations made to copies of the will (but which did not amount to valid wills themselves) and to a Spanish will prepared but which was not correctly executed. However, Mr John Baldwin QA (sitting as a judge of the Chancery Division) held that the various altered copy wills gave him no assistance when considering the deceased’s intentions and he considered that they did not lead him to conclude there would be “…other material which might assist the defendants…” available for a trial. The judge found the reference to the property was to number 81 and that this was not a case where a full trial was required.

The judge took guidance on the construction of a will being the same as the “construction of contracts and other documents…” as was summarised by Lord Neuberger in Marley v Rawlings [2014] UKSC 2 and as is permissible under s20(1)(a) of the Administration of Justice Act 1982. This will help parties when trying to resolve disputes about errors made over the description of assets in a will. However the key message is that care and attention should be paid by the testator and their will drafter (if there is one) to ensure assets are recorded accurately and, if necessary, in detail to avoid potential litigation over their intentions.