The late Mrs June Clark made thirteen separate wills between 2004 and her death in 2016, all of which were deemed invalid because she executed a mirror will with her husband in 2000, which has been upheld as being a mutual will.
Mutual wills are wills that are made by two or more individuals who contractually agree not to revoke the wills by, for example, making new wills departing from the terms of the mutual wills. If the first to die did not change his or her will, on the first death the survivor’s will becomes irrevocable. If the survivor does change his or her will, the changes would have legal effect, but a constructive trust would arise over the property that is left to the survivor.
Facts of the Case
Under the terms of the mirror wills, Mrs Clark and her husband left their estate to each other in the first instance and then in default to their two daughters, the Claimants in this case. The daughters gave evidence that an agreement was reached between Mrs Clark and her husband in 2000, under which they made mutual promises not to change their mirror wills. When Mr Clark died in 2001, he had not changed his will. However, when Mrs Clark fell out with the Claimants, she made various other wills, all of which contained contradictory terms to the will made in 2000.
Mrs Clark’s final will made in 2014, left her residuary estate to her grandchildren and one of their partners, the Defendants. They argued that Mrs Clark’s conduct since 2000 was inconsistent with there being any mutual agreement being reached.
HHJ Matthews, sitting in the High Court, referred to other cases on mutual wills.
In this case, HHJ Matthews reviewed the law as to the ability to rely upon intrinsic evidence to establish a mutual wills constructive trust. He also held that in order to call into existence such a trust of mutual wills, the conscience of the second person to die (Mrs Clark), might arise through another doctrine called proprietary estoppel rather than from a contract. He said “the second testatrix (Mrs Clark) may make a promise, intended to be relied upon, to deal in future with her own beneficial property in a certain way, on which the first testator (Mr Clark) relied to his detriment by making his will as (informally) agreed, and then dying, putting it out of his power to alter his will in the future”
On review of the relevant law and equitable rules, HHJ Matthews stressed the importance that, if a mutual wills trust was to be established, there must be clear and satisfactory evidence of an agreement. From the evidence before him, HHJ Matthews found that Mrs Clark and her husband had made agreements both before and after execution of the wills to the effect that the wills were irrevocable.
HHJ Matthews stated:
“On the basis of all the evidence and other material before me, Mr & Mrs Clark expressly promised each other that, having made their will in the form they had, they would not revoke them, and thereby engaged the principle of mutual wills. That being so, the testatrix was not free unilaterally to alter her will and make a new one inconsistent with that of July 2000, in the sense that, if she did so, her personal representatives would hold her estate on trust to perform the equitable obligations laid upon her under the doctrine of mutual wills.”
The judgement highlights the challenges which can arise under both Wills and Trust law. It is therefore important to seek expert legal advice regarding the effect of Wills and any amendments made to them which may run inconsistent with an earlier Will and- as with this case- may later give rise to mutual wills.