Berman & Asbel, LLP

Court resolves conflict over error on wills

A couple created wills together back in 1999 and like a lot of people, put the wills away and did not revisit them for quite a long time. At the time that the wills were created, the couple had given each document identical terms so that there would be no confusion about where property and other assets should go. Unfortunately, at the time that the wills were signed and witness a mistake at their lawyer’s office resulted in each signing the other’s will. The switched signatures were not discovered until after the second of the two spouses passed away in 2006.

At that point, the couple’s two sons sued to have the wills invalidated after the mistake was discovered and it was also revealed that a close friend of the couple who had lived with them when he was a teenager had also been included in the will. That man says that he was considered a son to the couple even though they were not relatives.

The man’s claim was recently upheld by a court, which found that the mistakes did not defeat the validity of the gifts within the will. A judge found that the switched signatures were nothing more than a clerical error and that therefore the court had the power to fix them, just as it might if a contract contained a fatal error that was the result of a typo or other clerical mistake.

This case took place in another country but the issues are similar to those that would be raised in a case here in Pennsylvania. Courts have limited latitude to interpret the bequests in a will, but in the case of obvious clerical mistakes like misspellings, a judge might infer that the person meant the most likely correction.

Source: Daily Mail, “Man wins legal fight over £70,000 inheritance as Supreme Court agrees there was a 'clerical error' in the will,” Jan. 22, 2014. 

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