Wills Solicitor criticised by Judge for his ‘Primark service’ to millionaire client
Rebecca Stapleton 29-03-2022
What duties are owed to a client by their solicitor when they are preparing a Will? A recent case has demonstrated that where a solicitor prepared a Will for a client, even if this service has been provided at a knock down price, the solicitor is still expected to provide as good a service as possible.
On 31 January 2022, Justice Michael Green found that the 2014 Will of the late Kevin Reeves, who’s estate was valued at around £100 million, was invalid. He stated it had not been proven by the Claimant that the deceased knew and approved the contents of the 2014 Will and therefore the deceased’s earlier 2012 Will, the preparation of which was undisputed, was held to be valid (Reeves v Drew and others  EWHC (Ch)).
This ruling raises an important subject as to the circumstances in which a Will is prepared and drafted. In this case, the way in which the solicitor prepared the Will was described by the Judge to be ‘very strange’.
In his 2014 Will, the late Kevin Reeve left his daughter, Louise Reeves, 80% of his estate, with her half-sister, Lisa Murray, receiving the other 20%. Family members opposed to probate being granted, claimed that the Will had been the result of ‘undue influence’. A Will prepared in 2012 had split the estate more equally between the deceased’s relatives and there was a dramatic change between the two Wills.
As part of the court proceedings the circumstances in which the deceased changed his Will were examined in great detail, and the solicitor who drafted it was called to give evidence to the Court. It was revealed that Louise Reeves, the deceased’s daughter, and the specialist Will solicitor had a relationship which was far more than either of them had stated it to be. The court found that there were several text messages between them in December 2013, and a witness who stated that there was a ‘familiarity’ between them.
The Judge said it was ‘extraordinary’ that the solicitor annotated with deletions and amendments the original signed and properly executed 2012 will while it was still valid and that he had an ‘annoying habit of buying time in the witness box’. This conduct paired with the solicitor's assertion that because the deceased had only paid £140 plus VAT to draft the Will, he would not be able to give a first class service, resulted in the Judge finding the solicitor to be ‘reckless and quite possibly dishonest’. Subsequently, there could be serious consequences for him as a solicitor.
It was concluded that while the involvement of a solicitor would usually strengthen the presumption of the validity of a Will, in this case it was ‘quite the reverse’.
This case showcases the possibility of undue influence in the preparation of Wills. It also highlights the importance of obtaining the assistance of an expert when drafting your Will, to ensure that your estate goes to the right people after your death.
If you want to challenge a Will, you should speak to a solicitor as a matter of urgenct. If you question the validity of a Will or you have concerns about the circumstances in which it was drafted, please get in touch with our litigation team who would be happy to assist you.