Royal Society for The Prevention of Cruelty To Animals v Sharp and Others: CA 21 Dec 2010

The Society appealed against an order construing a will. The will had made a gift of the maximum allowed before payment of inheritance tax, and then a gift of a house. The Society argued that the house gift should be deducted before calculation of the band.
Held: The appeal succeeded. The court should not assume as a universal rule that a high street firm of solicitors will not take account of tax provisions in framing their advice. The natural readimng of the particular words used suggested the value of the house was first to be deducted.
Patten LJ said: ‘One thing on which the parties were in agreement was the approach of the Court to the construction of a will. As mentioned above, it was common ground before the judge that no extrinsic evidence was admissible. He had therefore to follow the guidance of Lord Simon LC in Perrin v Morgan [1943] AC 399 at 406 and to construe the language of the will so as to find: ‘the meaning which, having regard to the terms of the will, the testator intended. The question is not, of course, what the testator meant to do when he made his will, but what the written words he uses mean in the particular case – what are the ‘expressed intentions’ of the testator.’
We have therefore to examine the language of the will in its context taking into account the will as a whole; any relevant background circumstances which inform the meaning of the words used; and giving to those words their ordinary meaning unless they are obviously used in some special or technical sense
. . it is dangerous to approach the assessment of the Testator’s intentions other than through the language of his will. The first relevant consideration in my view is that the will was professionally drafted by a solicitor who has to be assumed to be competent. Although solicitors do obviously make mistakes, there needs to be something in the language of the document or its admissible background to justify that inference. More importantly, those factors must be such as to permit the Court to give the words actually used a meaning which is not strictly in accordance with the usual rules of grammar or vocabulary: see Investors Compensation Scheme Ltd v West Bromwich Building Society [1998] 1 WLR 896.’
Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury MR said: ‘ As Patten LJ impliedly acknowledges by his reference to Investors Compensation Scheme Limited v West Bromwich Building Society [1998] 1 WLR 896, the court’s approach to the interpretation of wills is, in practice, very similar to its approach to the interpretation of contracts. Of course, in the case of a contract, there are at least two parties involved in negotiating its terms, whereas a will is a unilateral document. However, it is clear from a number of cases that the approach to interpretation of unilateral documents, such as a notice or a patent, is effectively the same, as a matter of principle, as the court’s approach to the interpretation of a bilateral or multilateral document such as a contract: see Mannai Investments Ltd v Eagle Star Insurance Co plc [1997] AC 749 and Kirin-Amgen Inc v Hoechst Marion Roussel Ltd [2005] RPC 9.
One obvious difference between a bilateral document such as a contract and a unilateral document such as a will, is that parties negotiating a contract may well be consciously content to include an obscurely drafted provision, on the basis that it represents an acceptable compromise, which enables overall agreement to be reached, whereas, save in a most exceptional case, which it is hard to conceive, a person making a will has no interest in obscurity.’
Patten, Black LJJ, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury MR
[2010] EWCA Civ 1474, [2011] 1 WLR 980, [2011] STI 253, [2011] STC 553, [2011] WTLR 311, (2011) 13 ITELR 701, [2011] PTSR 942
Inheritance Tax Act 1984 4(1)
England and Wales
CitedCancer Research Campaign v Ernest Brown 1998
An executor does not usually owe a duty to advise a beneficiary in connection with the affairs of the beneficiary. Tax avoidance is not an idea that runs naturally or should be attributed to ordinary people or to legal executives in a small firm of . .
CitedInvestors Compensation Scheme Ltd v West Bromwich Building Society HL 19-Jun-1997
Account taken of circumstances wihout ambiguity
The respondent gave advice on home income plans. The individual claimants had assigned their initial claims to the scheme, but later sought also to have their mortgages in favour of the respondent set aside.
Held: Investors having once . .

Cited by:
CitedRawstron and Another (Executrices of The Estate of Lucian Freud) v Freud ChD 30-Jul-2014
The court considered the construction of a point in the deceased’s will. The clause said: ‘I GIVE all the residue of my estate (out of which shall be paid my funeral and testamentary expenses and my debts) and any property over which I have a . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 25 August 2021; Ref: scu.427374