Burrough v Philcox

English Succession Law

Burrough v Wilcox
‘The Writing Of The Will’ by Christian Ludwig Bokelmann

The intention to bequeath when drafting a well organised and thoroughly considered will remains the deciding authority of the testator, and so when perhaps vital elements to that redistribution are left wanting, the power falls to the court to compel the wishes of the deceased in as full a manner as possible, as was found in this potentially convoluted suit.

Having given tremendous thought to the lifetime of his estate, and the unavoidable dilemma of untimely deaths, the deceased had made express stipulations as to the execution of his legacy should his immediate  progeny die, while this caveat was made clear by the words:

“[I]n case my son and daughter should both of them die without leaving lawful issue, then for the said estates to be disposed of as shall be hereinafter mentioned (that is to say), the longest liver of my two children shall have power, by a will, properly attested, in writing, to dispose of all my real and personal estates amongst my nephews and nieces or their children, either all to one of them, or to as many of them as my surviving child shall think proper.”

And so in the sad event that his two children were unable to live long enough to bear children, or oversee the disposition of his estate as he had wished, the matter was presented to the Court of Chancery, so as to establish if when dying, the power to assign to those in vivo was relinquished, or if the estate was to remain in trust for the benefit of those now dead.

After much deliberation, and a reinvestigation of a number of arguable precedents, the court turned to Brown v Higgs, in which it was held that within circumstances where those granted executory powers have passed, the will itself becomes a mere trust, and therefore:

“[T]he trustee having died without executing it, or transgressing it, or refusing to execute it, shall not prevent its being held an absolute benefit for the objects, with a power to give a preference.”

Thus the court held that where a will or codicil is deliberate enough to provide express use of its power, the court is granted proper authority to ensure that its instructions are followed both with judicial impartiality and honest justiciability, therefore the will was enforced and the proper class of beneficiaries shown due privilege, while the court also held that:

“[W]hen there appears a general intention in favour of a class, and a particular intention in favour of individuals of a class to be selected by another person, and the particular intention fails, from that selection not being made, the Court will carry into effect the general intention in favour of the class.”

Author: Neil Egan-Ronayne

Legal Consultant, Author and Foodie...

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