The High Court has ruled that a man’s will that existed only in draft form on a computer, but which was signed by two reliable witnesses, should be accepted as valid.
This is a highly unusual decision because generally, the original will, signed in the presence of two witnesses present at the same time, must be produced after death in order to obtain a Grant of Probate.
The case involved a Dr Steven Cooper, who had been married to Sara Jane Cooper between 2003 and 2016. The couple had two children together. He made a will in 2009 that left his estate to Sara Jane, and in default to his children.
Dr Cooper fell ill in 2014 and separated from his wife. The couple divorced in 2016.
In 2018, the Dr Cooper started a new relationship with Ms Chapman and drafted a will from a computer template that benefited his new partner.
Two relatives of Chapman were asked to be witnesses to the will.
Dr Cooper died suddenly in 2019 and Ms Cooper brought a claim for a Grant of Probate based on the 2009 will.
She argued there was no reliable evidence that the 2018 will was ever executed. Ms Chapman was unable to find the executed version of the 2018 will.
Ms Cooper argued that even if it was executed, the fact that it couldn’t be found meant that it should be presumed that it had been revoked.
The court ruled in favour of Ms Chapman.
It held that the 2018 will was duly executed in the form of the draft on Dr Cooper’s computer. On the balance of probabilities, it had not been revoked.
The two relatives who witnessed the making of the 2018 will were deemed to be credible witnesses.
IT experts provided evidence showing that both the dates the 2018 will was created and last accessed were consistent with the witnesses’ testimony of the date of execution.
There had been no change in the Dr Cooper’s circumstances between that date and his death and therefore the will could not be assumed to have been revoked.
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