When making your will, the general rule is that you are free to leave your assets to whomsoever you wish. However, as a High Court case concerning ownership of a thriving family business showed, such testamentary freedom may be restricted by agreements reached, or promises made, during your lifetime.
During their marriage, a man and woman established a successful catering company in which they were equal shareholders. Following their divorce, they signed a deed by which they agreed that any shares in the company that they continued to hold when they died would pass to their two children.
The man did not comply with that agreement. Less than a year after entering into the deed, he made a new will bequeathing his shares in the company to his second wife. After he died suddenly, aged 66, his first wife and her children launched proceedings with a view to enforcing the deed so that, regardless of the terms of his will, his shareholding would pass to the children.
In upholding the claim, the Court found that, when the man signed the deed, he freely accepted his obligation to leave his shares to the children. The document was in plain terms and would have caused him no confusion as to its effect. His widow's arguments that the deed had been superseded or revoked by a subsequent agreement were rejected.