A man who died over sixty years ago was causing arguments in court recently, because of an ‘s’. When John Jones died, his will set up a trust to benefit ‘my brothers…and sisters in equal shares, the shares of any deceased brother or sister to be taken by his or her children in equal shares’. This seems straightforward enough – but it isn’t.
At one time Mr Jones had ten siblings but at the time he made his will, only his brother David (who was expressly excluded from benefiting from the will) and three of his sisters were still alive. The will trust eventually became eligible for distribution in 1992, when an interesting question arose. This was whether the descendants of all of Mr Jones’s brothers and sisters (excluding David) should benefit from the will or whether the trust assets should be distributed only to the descendants of the siblings who were alive when the will was created.
Key to the ruling was the phrase ‘brothers’. Since Mr Jones had only one living brother (and he was excluded under the will), the Court of Appeal took the view that it was clear that he meant his will to benefit the families of those of his brothers and sisters who were dead as well as those alive when the will was drawn up.