Interpretation of Clauses

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    New case law has led to the Privy Council providing more guidance on the interpretation of Wills in general and the expression ‘per stirpes’.

    The debate in this case related to Clause 6 in the Will of the deceased who died in the Bahamas in 2004. He left a multi million pound estate, a portion of which was left under the following clause:
    25% to a) my cousins (of which there were 4) and b) my ex-spouse in equal shares and if any of them predecease (the ex spouse or cousins) then to their issue per stirpes.

    The issue of construction related to whether, under this clause, each took 5% or whether it was divided into two equal portions, one shared by the cousins and one for the ex-wife.

    The judge found in favour of the wife and the cousins appealed.

    On appeal Lord Philips stated that the starting point when construing any will was to attempt to deduce the intention of the testator by giving the wording its natural meaning. He stated that little assistance was likely to be gained by consideration of how judges had interpreted similar wording in previous cases or to the format of the document achieved by the word processing as this could have been carried out by a secretary.

    His lordship went on to find that first impressions were that each of the five beneficiaries should receive an equal share. This was supported by the form of Clause 6 as a whole. Had the testator wished his wife to have a larger share this would have been conveyed in a separate sub-clause. He therefore allowed the appeal.

    Lord Hope further commented that the ‘per stirpes’ clause had no influence as to how the gift was to be divided between individuals where they all survived. It only came into play if a beneficiary had predeceased the testator.

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