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Will declared invalid over signing error - adopted son loses out

A couple's adopted son is unable to inherit their estate as planned because they signed each other's wills by mistake.

The court ruled that the wills therefore had to be declared invalid.

Alfred and Maureen Rawlings befriended and unofficially adopted orphan Terry Marley when he was 15. They already had two sons of their own.

Mr Marley lived with them for 30 years and looked after them in their old age. The couple intended to reward his devotion by leaving him the bulk of their 70,000 estate, even though that would mean disinheriting their two sons.

The problem arose when the couple both signed the other's will by mistake.

After their deaths, the natural sons discovered the error and challenged the wills.

The High Court held that although the couple had clearly intended Mr Marley to inherit, the mix-up meant the wills did not have the required legal formality and could not be declared valid. On reaching this decision, Mrs Justice Proudman said: "Much as I regret the blunder I cannot repair it."

The decision meant the couple were treated as though they had died intestate, that is, without having made a will at all. The estate would therefore have to be divided in ways laid down by law, which meant most of it would go to the natural sons.

The decision has now been upheld by the Court of Appeal.

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