This week's episode of "Inheritance Wars – Who Gets the Money?" on Channel 5, featured the case of Brett McLean and his legal dispute with his half-siblings concerning his late mother's will. Brett's half-siblings were the children of his late father. The family lived in a house in Hastings.
Brett's parents had made mirror wills, which provided for the survivor of them and then divided the inheritance between Brett and his half-siblings. Mirror wills are commonly made by husbands and wives because they typically provide for each other and, on the second death, for their children. However, after Brett's father died, Brett's mother made a new will, which benefitted him exclusively. She disinherited Brett's half-siblings. Brett inherited his mother's £300,000 house, which he claimed had been left to him mainly so that he could continue to care for his mother's pet parrots in her home. His half-siblings were unhappy about the situation and took the dispute to court, to try to obtain a share of the inheritance. Brett represented himself at court and cross-examined the will draftsman, who had prepared his parents' wills. The will draftsman confirmed that the wills he had prepared were mirror wills, not mutual wills. This meant that Brett's mother had been free to change her will at any time, which she did. There had been no binding legal agreement between his parents that they would never change their wills in the future. Brett won the case.
Brett's case highlights the important fact that, even though there may be a moral obligation on the survivor of a couple who have made mirror wills not to change their will after their partner's death, there is no legal obligation on them not to do so. Mutual wills, on the other hand, cannot be altered and are legally enforceable.
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