One digit error triggers will dispute

Posted: 18th November 2015

CourtsAnyone considering saving a few pounds with a home-made, or DIY, will should reflect on the recent case of Guthrie v Morel where a one-character typing error triggered a costly High Court dispute between a multi-millionaire’s loved ones about the destination of his Spanish villa.

The will took the unusual form of a type-written letter in 2003 from businessman Brian Morel to his solicitors. There was no evidence as to who had typed it. It contained a purported bequest to his partner, Carol Guthrie, of his villa at ‘87 Loma Del Rey’, a luxury development on the Costa del Sol. He in fact had no property at that address, although he did own a villa at 81 Loma Del Rey.

Miss Guthrie, who had formed a relationship with Mr Morel following his divorce, argued that it was obvious that an error had been made and that he intended to leave the villa to her. His three sons were adamant that the mistake meant that there had been no valid bequest of the villa, which should therefore pass to them as his next of kin.

The sons advanced the theory that the partner had typed the letter and that their father had deliberately given her the wrong address as a ruse so that she would not inherit the property. Carol Guthrie denied being the typist and the Court noted that there was no evidence to support the sons’ speculations. In those circumstances, the Court declared that the deceased intended a "reference to his villa at 81 Loma Del Rey and not to some other property which he did not own".

The key point is that there was room for debate because of the mistake which gave rise to doubt, delay, litigation and expense far beyond the likely cost of having a will properly drawn 12 years earlier. For the sake of comparatively few pounds, a DIY will isn't worth the risk. See our Wills and estate planning page for how to do it properly!