The case of British University in Dubai v Ebrahimi, 2021 EWHC 757 Ch seems to have all of the ingredients of a Poirot storyline – a university professor giving away his fortune by means of a handwritten Will, confusion and mystery surrounding the execution of the Will, an ensuing court case and a witness confessing to the judge that his affidavit evidence was made up. If we cut through the intrigue and mystery what we find is on the one hand surprising and on the other hand sadly all too common – an attempt to make a homemade Will which ultimately failed.
There is nothing in the judgment to suggest that Professor Whalley's 2018 Will was fraudulent, the assumption being that Professor Whalley did indeed write his Will by hand, leaving his entire estate to his friend Professor Ebrahimi and his wife. However, Professor Whalley then failed to sign the Will correctly, invalidating the document.
This is surprising for a number of reasons; firstly, we are told in the judgment that Professor Whalley sought some legal input in relation to his previous homemade Will and was told that there were problems with it, so Professor Whalley was forewarned that his previous attempt at a homemade Will wasn’t wholly successful. Secondly, we are told that the estate at the date of his death was sizeable, being over £3m, meaning that there was a lot at stake and, one would have thought, a desire to get the Will right. The size of the estate also tells us that he could afford to seek proper legal advice. Nonetheless, despite this Professor Whalley decided to go "homemade" when he did his last Will, resulting in the ensuing legal battle and the estate ending up not where Professor Whalley had intended.
Homemade Wills are not uncommon and with the advent of online Will writing kits they may become more prevalent over time. However, what this case clearly demonstrates is that if the Will maker has any doubt about the terms, effect or validity of a Will they have made at home they should seek legal advice to ensure the Will is valid and its terms are completing understood. Moreover, if there is any complexity involved (be it due to the size of the estate, the nature of the assets or competing claims on an estate) the Will should always be prepared by a legal professional rather than left to chance.