Among the requirements for a will to be valid are that it must not be witnessed by a beneficiary and it must be signed at the bottom by the testator (the person making it) or, if they are unable to sign it, under their direction.

You would therefore be forgiven for thinking that a will that was ‘signed’ by the beneficiary would stand little chance of acceptance, but a recent and unusual case, which was heard by the High Court and then retried when new evidence came to light, proved an exception to the rule.

On the day he died in 2004, the testator had created a will in favour of his daughter. Because of his infirmity, he could not hold his hand steady and the nurses attending him gave evidence that his daughter (or possibly his granddaughter) ‘steadied his hand’ so that he could sign the will, which the nurses then witnessed. The original testimony of the nurses was that the man’s daughter had played no part whatsoever in the signing process, but they subsequently changed their evidence.

Expert witness evidence was produced, which stated that there was ‘conclusive evidence to support the view that the questioned signature on the [2004] Will […] was not produced in the manner described in the recent witness statements (namely with [Anne] merely assisting [Martin] so as to steady his shaking hand)’.

Also, since the case was originally heard, an earlier will had been found, executed in 2002. This made an entirely different disposition of the man’s assets. There was no dispute that the earlier will, made with professional advice, was valid when it was made.

The issue before the Court was whether the 2004 will complied with the requirements of the Wills Act, which are that it must be made ‘in writing, and signed by the testator, or by some other person in his presence and by his direction’, and also that the testator knew and approved the contents of the will when it was signed.

In a long judgment, Mr Justice Vos concluded that the man’s daughter had signed her father’s name on the will, but concluded that she had done so on his behalf and at his direction. The will was therefore valid.

An appeal against this decision is considered likely.