A bitter dispute between three “brothers” over who should gain a £70,000 inheritance after a couple mistakenly signed each other’s wills was brought before the Supreme Court today.
Some 14 years after Alfred and Maureen Rawlings’ mistake, the court has been asked to settle an argument between the couple’s two biological sons and their “adopted” sibling over the validity of the documents.
Terry Marley, 54, who was taken in by the Rawlings family at their former home in Bermondsey, south-east London, as a teenager, was left the entirety of the couple’s estate following the death of Mr Rawlings in 2006 as an apparent reward for his devotion to them in their old age.
Although he was not related or formally adopted, Mr Marley was “treated as their son” by the couple and lived with them for more than 30 years.
The relationship between Mr Marley and the Rawlings’ sons – Michael, who was Mr Marley’s best friend at school, and Terry – soured following the deaths of the couple and the subsequent discovery that the signing and witnessing of the wills had been botched by the couple’s solicitor in 1999.
Mr Marley, who was also left the Rawlings’ £400,000 home in Westerham,Kent, initially offered to split the £70,000 legacy but the dispute over the validity of the identical wills, which lawyers for Michael and Terry Rawlings argue are null and void, has seen the money frozen. Mr Marley has lost two previous cases, including a judgment at the Court of Appeal last year, which found that although the intentions of Mr and Mrs Rawlings were clear, their wills were invalid because the “testator” named in the text had not signed his or her name. He subsequently won permission to have his case heard by the Supreme Court.
Both Mr Marley and Terry Rawlings, 51, a rock star biographer, were in court to witness proceedings.
Lawyers for Mr Marley argued that there could be no dispute over what Mr Rawlings, who survived his wife by three years, had intended and the law allowed for the wills to be amended or “rectified” to grant the couple’s last wish.
The Rawlings brothers argue that their parents did not produce wills which can be recognised in law and they therefore died intestate – meaning the inheritance will fall to them.