In re Cleaver dec’d, Cleaver v Insley: ChD 1981

Cases of mutual wills are only one example of a wider category of cases, for example secret trusts, in which a court of equity will intervene to impose a constructive trust.
Nourse J said: ‘The principle of all these cases is that a court of equity will not permit a person to whom property is transferred by way of gift, but on the faith of an agreement or clear understanding that it is to be dealt with in a particular way for the benefit of a third person, to deal with that property inconsistently with that agreement or understanding. An enforceable agreement to dispose of property in pursuance of mutual wills can be established only by clear and satisfactory evidence.’
Equity does not protect the beneficiary under mutual wills merely because the wills have been made in identical or almost identical terms. There must be evidence of an agreement to create interests under mutual wills which are intended to be irrevocable after the death of the first person to die. Nourse J said: ‘It is therefore clear that there must be a definite agreement between the makers of the two wills; that that must be established by evidence; that the fact that there are mutual wills to the same effect is a relevant circumstance to be taken into account, although not enough of itself; and that the whole of the evidence must be looked at.’


Nourse J


[1981] 1 WLR 939, [1981] 2 All ER 1018


Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975


England and Wales


CitedBirmingham v Renfrew 11-Jun-1937
(High Court of Australia) Cases of mutual wills are only one example of a wider category of cases, for example secret trusts, in which a court of equity will intervene to impose a constructive trust. Latham CJ described a mutual will arrangement as . .
CitedLord Walpole v Lord Orford HL 1797
The court considered the difference between an obligation accepted in law, and what was described as ‘an honourable engagement’. . .

Cited by:

DistinguishedGoodchild and Another v Goodchild CA 2-May-1997
The deceased and his wife made wills in virtually identical form. The husband changed his will after their divorce, but his son and other wife claimed that the couple had intended the wills to be part of a larger arrangement of their affairs, . .
CitedWalters v Olins CA 4-Jul-2008
The claimant appealed against a finding that he had entered into a mutual will contract with the deceased.
Held: It is a legally necessary condition of mutual wills that there is clear and satisfactory evidence of a contract between two . .
CitedHealey v Brown ChD 25-Apr-2002
The two deceased had made mutual wills bequeathing the family home. The survivor transferred the property during his life to defeat the agreement. It was now said that the arrangement fell foul of the 1989 Act and was unenforceable.
Held: . .
CitedCharles and Others v Fraser ChD 11-Aug-2010
The claimants said that the last will had purported to revoke and earlier but mutual will. They said that the executors should be required to implement the revoked will. The wills had been made by elderly sisters. The wills were in similar terms, . .
CitedLegg and Another v Burton and Others ChD 11-Aug-2017
Testing for Mutual Wills
The parties disputed whether wills were mutual. The claimants challenged the probate granted to a later will of their deceased mother, saying that her earlier will had been mutual and irrevocable after the death of their father.
Held: The . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Wills and Probate, Equity

Updated: 06 May 2022; Ref: scu.183792