To describe or not to describe?
Whilst the plaintiff questioned whether the gift to Katherine was dependant or conditional on her being the de facto of the deceased at the date of his death, one of the defendants argued that the phrase, “my de facto wife” was merely descriptive and should be ignored.
The Court held that the Will is said to speak from the date of death. The Court reasoned that because Katherine was no longer in a de facto relationship with the deceased at the date of death, the intended disposition of his estate to Katherine should fail.
So, what do we, as practitioners, consider when drafting Wills for our clients? Are we doing our clients a disservice by describing the relationship of a beneficiary to the client without more? For instance, if a bequest is made to a friend,Joe Blow, of the client, and at the time of death, Joe Blow is no longer a friend of the client, then would the gift to the estranged friend fail? Was it the client’s intent that Joe Blow remained his friend in order to receive the gift? And more importantly, how could one prove that the relationship was no longer amicable?
I suppose if the description of a relationship to the client is just that…a description, then a bequest should remain valid. On the other hand, if it is the intention of the client to only benefit a particular person if he/she remains in the relationship described, then probably the best practice is to clearly state such an intention in the Will as a condition precedent to receiving the gift.