Could a will executed just one day before a marriage be revoked by that same marriage? We take a look at this interesting recent case.
LATTIMER V KARAMANOLI  EWHC 1524 (CH)
Evi Kalodiki, a former surgeon, was terminally ill with cancer when she decided to marry her partner, Dr Lattimer.
Evi had asked her friend to arrange a Greek Orthodox ceremony at the chapel in her hospice. She also asked him to help draft her will; the first and only will she ever drafted. Both the will drafting and religious ceremony took place on 27 December 2018, with the legal marriage taking place the next day. Sadly, Evi then died a few days later on 31 December 2018.
The unusually short timeframe over which these key events occurred would beg the question: surely the will contemplated the marriage? The case however progressed to the High Court where the decision proved not so simple.
Evi had a large estate, worth approximately £10million in assets (£3million of which were based in England). Under the disputed will, this estate would be divided six ways. If the will were revoked however, the entirety of her English estate would pass under the rules of intestacy to Dr Lattimer (the Claimant). Evi's sister (the Defendant), who stood to benefit from the will, sought to defend Dr Lattimer's claim that the will had been revoked.
Despite only being drafted the day before, Evi's will, perhaps unusually, made no mention of the upcoming marriage.
In bringing a claim for summary judgment, Dr Lattimer sought to establish that the marriage revoked the will, that Evi's sister had no real prospect of successfully defending this claim and that there was no other compelling reason why the case should proceed to a full trial.
In her defence, Evi's sister raised a number of points, the key one being that the will failed to reflect Evi's intentions – i.e. that the will was plainly intended to survive the marriage despite no express clause being included to this effect, as would be the case had it been professionally drafted. The phrase "my last and only will" could potentially be interpreted to hold this effect. She also raised issues in relation to Evi's capacity to marry.
What the court found clear, was that the marriage was indeed valid, with Evi being found to have capacity to marry at the time. The threshold for this is relatively low and does not require the person to know that the marriage would revoke a will. The Court also has no power to declare a domestic marriage invalid on public policy grounds and the circumstances for challenging a marriage after death are incredibly limited.
Ultimately, the court determined that Evi's sister had a real prospect of defending the Dr Latimer's claim, on grounds that Evi's friend could have made a clerical error when drafting the will or failed to properly understand her wishes. On this basis the court found that the will could potentially be rectified on this basis, despite the base position that a marriage revokes a will. These issues are due to be determined with further evidence at a full trial.
What is evident from this case is the court's power of interpretation, which may be more likely to be exercised in unorthodox circumstances such as these where the will was drafted both by a layperson and so close to the marriage and death. It also however demonstrates the legal power of marriage, as ultimately the court's hands may be tied in circumstances where there is less room for interpretation.
In recent years, the Law Commission has been considering the overarching position that a will is revoked by marriage, with a further consultation due to take place this autumn. We remain interested to hear the outcome of this consultation, and the full trial.
Originally published 15 August 2023
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.