A will must normally be made in writing to have legal effect, but there are exceptions to this rule. One is that a sailor can make a valid will orally when at sea. Recently, this rule was held by the court to apply in the case of a sailor who made an oral will whilst at the home of a relative, because the sailor was under orders to return to his ship when the will was made.

There was an unusual aspect to this case. The person to whom he confided his last wishes was his cousin. She would have stood to inherit his estate, which was valued at more than £1/2 million, had he not expressed his wish that it should pass to his aunt in its entirety. His aunt had become a ‘second Mum’ to the man, who had been largely cold-shouldered by most of the rest of his family.

The man’s cousin gave evidence that it was his aunt, not she, whom he wished to inherit his estate.

Says Cathy Owen, “In such circumstances, not many people will willingly give evidence that someone else should have such a large sum to which they would otherwise be entitled. Sadly, to rely on people ‘doing the right thing’ is normally false optimism: the sensible approach is to make sure you have a valid will, held in safe custody, and that your relatives know where it can be found.”