Certainty in Will drafting

If there is a gift in a Will to ‘my friend John Smith’ with no address, would it fail for lack of certainty, as there is no evidential way to prove that a certain John Smith was the deceased’s friend?

A quick knee jerk reply: much of what you can do in these circumstances will depend on the precise facts, but what about:

· Looking in the deceased’s address book

· Asking his family/friends

· Asking ‘John Smith’ himself for proof of friendship (this is assuming you can find him)

· Seeing if he is e.g. a Facebook friend (well, you never know)

I don’t think the term ‘friend’ is such a big deal – we know already that if you say ‘my daughter-in-law Jane Brown’ in a will, and then your son and she divorce, the inapplicability of the description is not fatal to the gift - being married to your son is not a condition of the gift taking effect. The term ‘daughter-in-law’ is just to help identify the person.

Jill MacMahon
Thackray Williams LLP

Many wills nowadays seem to leave out a beneficiary’s address, with the oft-cited comment that people move change their address so often nowadays that a postal address becomes meaningless.

Whilst it is useful to include the postal address, which can be used as a reference point for verifying the beneficiary’s identity, the enquiries suggested by Jill MacMahon should be general practice.

The main issue, probably, is what if “John Smith” cannot be traced as, without the initial reference point such as the address, how can you be certain if they have survived the testator.

Does the inclusion of the address help the administration of the estate? If it might, I would be in favour of including it. Perhaps not necessary for close family, though.

Sometimes, asking the testator for the beneficiary’s address reveals they don’t know themselves, but still want to give the legacy. In which case, a provision might be included as to what the executor should do if the beneficiary cannot be located within a specified/reasonable period.

Paul Saunders