Rea v Rea – why you want a good solicitor to draft your will

Wills are immensely powerful documents and, at the stroke of a pen, dispose of all of a person’s worldly possessions. So a bit of care is useful when preparing them.

The judge in Rea v Rea [2019] EWHC 2434 (Ch) was highly complimentary of the solicitor (Mrs Sukul) in this case:

Mrs Sukul gave her evidence with clarity and professionalism, as is to be expected of a solicitor with years of experience. It was supported by detailed contemporaneous notes. Mrs Sukul of course has no personal interest in the outcome of this claim. It seems to me that Mrs Sukul approached her instructions from Mrs Rea throughout with consummate care and skill and in a thoroughly professional manner. She gave highly sensible advice in recommending that her client obtained a mental capacity assessment. She recognised that the 2015 Will represented such a significant departure from the 1986 Will that careful precautions needed to be taken to ensure that Mrs Rea understood the implications and knew what she was doing. She addressed the concerns that presented themselves to her by going to considerable lengths to satisfy herself that Mrs Rea was acting with full knowledge of the changes to her will and their consequences. She likewise ensured to her satisfaction that Mrs Rea was acting of her own volition and without any pressure being exerted on her by others. If this level of care and competence was applied in every case there would doubtless be fewer disputes about wills coming before the courts.

Breaking that down, the solicitor:

  • had detailed contemporaneous notes
  • took instructions carefully
  • advised on mental capacity and the risk of a challenge – so to obtain evidence to reduce this prospect
  • noted the issues arising when writing a radically new will which wrote children out
  • ensured that she was satisfied that her client was not being influenced by another

The praise from the judge is wholly deserved.

Against that independent evidential backgroud it is clear that the aggrieved childrens’ case was on the back foot.

That was borne out when their evidence was found, for two of them, to be unreliable; and for the third whilst honest it did not support the case they sought to bring.

The challenge therefore failed and the will writing out three children in favour of the one who cared for their mother was upheld.

Neocleouos v Rees – signing your land away by email

One of the protections in place for certain transactions is a requirement for “signed writing”. This case concerned a contract for sale of land.

This recent case considers an area where the law really hasn’t caught up yet – email signature blocks. In short, is an automated signature added by your email software enough to amount to a signature for legal purposes?

Neocleous says yes!

The judge helpfully considers prior cases on how far an individual has to go to “sign” an email. It was previously viewed that a person manually adding their name, or having their typist do so, was sufficient to “sign” – being intended to authenticate the document.

There are, unsurprisingly, also statutory issues to consider including the Electronic Communications Act 2000 (which gives effect to the E-Signatures Directive) and the Law Commission’s report on this issue. That report concludes that adding a typed signature is sufficient, as is clicking an “I accept” button on a website.

The judge took the view that “signature” had evolved and included the concept of an automatically added signature in Outlook. Especially as from the recipient’s perspective it is not possible to ascertain whether such a signature is manually added or automatic,

This was held intentional as it was known to the sender that this was done, as emphasised by the fact that his email ended with the signoff “Many thanks” and followed by the automatic signature.

This may be a surprise to some but commercially it seems to be an increasing occurrence and signed contracts are created regularly in this fashion.

The full case is at Neocleous v Rees [2019] EWHC 2462 (Ch)