What is meant by ‘nieces and nephews’ when interpreting a Will?

13 Nov 2020

The recent case of Wales-v-Dixon & Others has raised the interesting question of what exactly is meant by a person who leaves their estate to their ‘nieces and nephews’. 
The clause of this Will in this particular case left the residuary estate of the deceased to ‘such all of my nephew’s and niece’s children’.  
The deceased was widowed with no children.  He had two blood nephews and two blood nieces.  He also had three nephews by marriage and one niece by marriage.  A further nephew by marriage had died in 1992 leaving a son. 
The deceased and his late wife had made mirror Wills on at least three previous occasions.  Those Wills followed a pattern of leaving everything to each other and then initially to charities and later to a named selection of nieces and nephews of them both.
The question that arose was whether or not the deceased meant to leave his residuary estate to the children of his blood nieces and nephews or whether the children of his late wife’s nieces and nephews should also be included. 
This question has been raised in the Courts before in Re Daoust (1944) where it was stated that the strict and proper meaning of nephew or niece is the son or daughter of a brother or sister but it was acknowledged that the strict meaning is susceptible to extension.  It is generally accepted that niece or nephew may describe the child of a brother in law or sister in law.  Furthermore, nephew can be used to indicate a niece’s husband and niece to describe the wife of a nephew. 
The starting position is that, unless compelled by context or circumstances, the Court will always construe a class gift to nephews and nieces as a gift confined to the children of a brother or sister.
In Wales-v-Dixon & Others it was confirmed that the background of a matter is not limited to the remaining provisions in the Will but also in the history of previous Wills, the previous Wills of a spouse and what happened to a spouse’s estate.
On this basis, it was decided that the deceased had intended to benefit not just his own blood relatives but the relatives of his late wife and the estate was administered accordingly.
Any solicitor preparing your Will should always ask you plenty of questions about your family and your assets.  At DMH Stallard we have a thorough process designed to ensure that your Will and your wishes are clear so that your executors can administer your estate quickly and efficiently.
If you are thinking about putting in place your Will or have any concerns as to the clarity of your current Will please get in touch with Jennifer Charlton who would be happy to assist.


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