It may be tempting (but is probably just tempting fate) to put a ‘qualification’ clause in a will whereby a person inherits only if they do something or refrain from doing something.
Where it is something definite which can be unequivocally demonstrated one way or the other at the date of death, then the potential range of problems is reduced. An example might be a bequest which applies only if a person is married.
However, the more uncertain any such clause is, the more room there may be for dispute.
In a recent case, the court heard an argument over just such a clause. It involved a man who wished to make sure his family name continued, so his will contained a stipulation that, in order to benefit, the beneficiary had not only to adopt the surname of Howard but also to adopt the Howard coat of arms. The latter is quite a complicated process and requires an application to the College of Arms, which then forwards an application to the Home Office, which in turn petitions the Queen. The requirement was for this to be done within a year of the testator’s death. Although the process was begun in that time, it was not completed.
Although the facts were complicated, the essence of the argument was whether or not the beneficiary had used his reasonable endeavours to adopt the coat of arms.
The court held that as the defendant had made the application within a year and used reasonable endeavours to adopt the coat of arms, he was not required to forfeit his benefit under the will.
Few people will need to petition to be granted a coat of arms. However, the case does illustrate the general principle that the less certainty there is in any document, the more room there is for dispute. This is particularly the case as regards wills, because the testator is no longer able to shed light on their original intentions.