A very unusual case illustrates the lengths to which the courts may go in order to sort out disputes involving lost wills.

It involved a couple who had both been married before and who, it was claimed, had made mutual wills. On the husband’s death, his will was not submitted for probate. He left everything to his wife. When she died, she left a will bequeathing her entire estate to her son and, in so doing, excluded her stepson.

Her stepson contested the will. He claimed that his step-mother had made a later will similar to that of his late father, which had provided that should he outlive her their joint estate was to be divided equally between their respective children. The stepson claimed that this later will was binding on her.

Despite the lack of any independent evidence that mutual wills had been created, and the fact that the husband’s will, which was professionally prepared, did not contain any evidence that it was a mutual will, the court ruled that the estate should be divided equally between the two men.

The woman’s son appealed to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the original decision.

Clearly, the best course of action to take is to ensure that you make a will that clearly states your intentions and is held in safe custody. If this is not done, all too often the outcome is recourse to the courts, which is an unpleasant and expensive way to decide the distribution of an estate.