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.


Further reading

CMA fines pharmaceutical company more than £100m

Drug pricing policies under scrutiny as CMA comes down hard on inflated prices and supernormal profits
Read more Read

5 data protection changes to be aware of

Commercial law specialist Liz Gillingham provides a summary of recent developments in data protection law
Read more Read

Destination: office?

Blog, News & PR
Emily Wood considers the results of our recent survey and the implications for the future of the post-pandemic workplace
Read more Read

Commercial lease renewals and pandemic clauses

Will commercial reality trump the law when leases are up for renewal? Property expert James Picknell takes a look
Read more Read
  • Brighton Office

    1 Jubilee Street


    East Sussex

    BN1 1GE

  • Gatwick Office

    Griffin House

    135 High Street


    West Sussex

    RH10 1DQ

  • Guildford Office

    Wonersh House

    The Guildway

    Old Portsmouth Road



    GU3 1LR

  • Horsham Office

    Ridgeland House

    15 Carfax


    West Sussex

    RH12 1DY

  • London Office

    6 New Street Square

    New Fetter Lane


    EC4A 3BF

  • Get in touch