Solicitor rebuked by Judge for conduct in preparing a Will for a £100 million estate

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A solicitor’s duty to act properly does not change regardless of the fee negotiated for their assistance. Market pressures should not change the care taken in preparing Wills or, indeed, any other legal document. Equally, the false economy of prioritising cost at the expense of receiving a quality service is a common mistake.

Both points were laid bare by the judgment in Reeves v Drew & Ors, in which the conduct of the solicitor in drafting a Will was heavily criticised by the presiding Judge.

Louise Reeves brought a claim to uphold the 2014 Will of her father, Kevin Reeves, which dealt with £100 million estate, following his death three years ago. At the time probate was granted in 2014, other members of the family had opposed it, maintaining that it had been drafted under ‘undue influence’.

Under the terms of the 2014 Will, prepared by Wills specialist Daniel Curnock, Louise received 80% of her father’s estate and the remaining 20% was inherited by her half-sister, Lisa. This arrangement was in significant contrast to a Will that Mr Reeves had prepared in 2012 which would have split the estate more equally between his relatives.

Despite Mr Reeves’ wealth, he had negotiated a fixed fee of just £140 plus VAT for the preparation of his Will. In the subsequent case, the Judge said it was ‘extraordinary’ that Mr Curnock had annotated the properly executed and still valid 2012 Will with deletions and amendments.

The Judge added that Mr Curnock ‘was a most unsatisfactory witness whose evidence cannot be tested by reference to his own attendance notes because those attendance notes are themselves under challenge’.

The Court also heard that a series of text messages were exchanged between Louise Reeves and Mr Curnock in December 2013, prior to the drafting of the second Will, and a witness described a ‘familiarity’ between the two of them.

The Judge said that he could not “safely rely on the evidence” provided by Mr Curnock about how he took instructions and prepared the 2014 Will, and he ruled that Louise Reeves had not proved that her father knew and approved the contents of the 2014 Will. On that basis, the 2012 Will was ruled to retain its validity.