A recent case in the High Court [Cooper v Chapman, 2022 EWHC 1000] involved a Will drafted by Dr Steven Cooper (the deceased) on his computer in March 2018 of which no executed version or copies could be found.
Dr Cooper had been married to Ms Cooper for 13 years and had two children, but the marriage ended in divorce in 2016. He began a relationship with Ms Chapman in 2015, having been childhood friends.
Dr Cooper, who passed away suddenly in July 2019, had suffered several years of poor physical and mental health. He ceased to have direct contact with his children (the claimants) from about February 2015, and indeed in November 2017, the Family Court barred Dr Cooper from having any direct or indirect contact with the claimants.
Dr Cooper had made a Will in 2009 while still married to Ms Cooper, leaving his estate to his children on condition they lived until the age of 21. After his death, Cooper submitted this Will for probate however, Ms Chapman objected claiming that Dr Cooper had written a homemade Will on his computer in 2018, thereby revoking the 2009 Will, leaving almost all of his estate to her. The Will made no provision for Dr Cooper’s two children, stating that they had been fully provided for by the financial settlement made on his divorce.
The 2018 Will has since been lost and the only remaining trace is a draft contained on Dr Cooper’s computer. Ms Chapman claimed that the Will had been printed out, signed by the deceased on about the 27th March 2018 in the presence of two of her relatives acting as witnesses. Computer experts were instructed to examine the file where the deceased’s will was filed. They agreed that the document was created on the 24th January 2018, amended on 20th March 2018, copied to another computer on February 4th 2019 and remained unaltered since. Although no paper version was found, Ms Chapman contended that the 2018 Will is a valid Will that satisfies the requirements of s.9 of the Wills Act 1837. She was also able to produce the witnesses who confirmed her account.
Ms Cooper, acting as her children’s litigation friend disputed this on the grounds that these events never happened or if they did, that the deceased later destroyed the executed will with the intention of revoking it.
With no physical evidence, HHJ Klein examined all of the submissions and oral evidence holistically to reach his conclusion.
In relation to whether the document that Dr Cooper had signed and Mr and Mrs Hartley witnessed was the 2018 Will and whether it was correctly executed and attested, HHJ Klein concluded on the balance of probabilities that it was. He found Mr & Mrs Hartley to be credible witnesses who were genuinely trying to tell the truth.
The issue as Ms Chapman claims, that Dr Cooper did not destroy the 2018 Will with the intention of revoking it, HHJ Klein concludes most probably he did not have any intention of revoking the 2018 Will. Dr Cooper probably had a continuing wish to make significant testamentary provision for Ms Chapman so it is improbable that he intended to revoke the 2018 Will, otherwise than by making a new Will. He is likely to have seen the 2018 Will as a Will which was to remain in place temporarily until he could have a Will professionally drafted.
HHJ Klein therefore found that the 2018 will had been validly executed in accordance with the 1837 Act (Cooper v Chapman, 2022 EWHC 1000).
This case highlights the importance of having a valid Will in place. At Moore & Tibbits, we have solicitors who are members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners which is the top qualification for a Wills, Trusts and Probate Solicitor. It provides clients with the reassurance that their solicitor has the highest level of knowledge and experience.
There are many reasons why a Will could be invalid which include:
- Drafting errors or a failure to draft and execute under the formalities of the Wills Act 1837
- Someone lacked testamentary capacity at the time they made their Will (their ability and mental capacity to understand the nature of the decisions they are making)
- The person making the Will had been put under undue influence or duress (coerced or forced by family members into writing or amending a Will that benefits them)
- The Will not being witnessed correctly – A Will needs to be signed and witnessed in the presence of at least two eligible witnesses to be legally valid.
Contesting a Will can be hugely complex, especially with emotions running high and the grief of losing a loved one. Sharon Eyre and Calvin Carrington have a wealth of experience in Will disputes and understand the daunting and stressful situations a dispute can cause with family members. If you have concerns about a Will and whether it is valid, please contact our team.