Christopher McNall recently dealt with a case which raises some ‘interesting and difficult questions in relation to the law of wills’.
A will left a one-third share in a farm to the testator’s son, on condition of payment by him of a certain sum within 9 months. Unfortunately, this condition was not met as the son died before the time had lapsed, leaving two daughters who stood in his shoes. The daughters did not find out about the legacy until long after the 9 months had gone by.
Given that the condition had not been met because the daughters did not know it existed, the question for the court was whether the gift had failed entirely and went to the other beneficiaries, or whether the gift still stood, but with the condition regarded as impossible and therefore not binding.
In his Judgment, His Honour Judge Hodge QC commented that the case ‘Raises two interesting and difficult questions in relation to the law of wills.’
- (i) whether an executor is obliged to tell beneficiaries of the gift under a will;
- (ii) whether ignorance of a condition attached to a gift means that the condition fails.
A wide-ranging discussion and analysis of cases from 1807 onwards was undertaken at the hearing.
The case will also be of general importance to all solicitors and will-writers when drafting a will containing a gift on a condition to be met by a certain time: the will should put an obligation on the executors to inform beneficiaries of the gift, and the time for meeting a condition should be expressly stated to run either from death, or from the time at which the beneficiary is informed of the gift by the executors.
Judgment in the matter can be found at  EWHC 1565 (Ch).
Christopher McNall specialises in disputes about tenanted and freehold farms and land (and especially agricultural tenancies under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986), taxation (especially of agricultural land), proprietary estoppel, and inheritance.
He has appeared in many leading agricultural and tax cases in the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the Agricultural Lands Tribunal, and the First-tier Tribunal. He is Chairperson of the Agricultural Lands Tribunal for Wales, a Deputy District Judge, and a fee-paid Judge of the Tax and Property Chambers of the First-tier Tribunal.
Christopher was Consultant Editor for the ‘Agricultural Holdings and Allotments’ title in the 2018 edition of Halsbury’s Laws of England and writes the ‘View from the Bar’ column for the Agricultural and Rural Affairs section of Practical Law.