Can a will disposing of UK assets include assets in Jersey?
In the recent Court of Appeal decision in Partington v Rossiter 2021 EWCA Civ 1564, the Court held that the express disposition of ‘UK assets’ in the testator’s will included the testator’s assets in Jersey. On the face of it, this is surprising as Jersey is not defined as being part of the UK in domestic legislation, despite the fact that the UK government is responsible for Jersey’s international relations and defence.
What led the Court to decide that references to the ‘UK’ in the testator’s will included Jersey?
The testator was domiciled in Russia when he died and had assets in several jurisdictions including Russia, Jersey and the UK. His widow was living in Russia on his death. He made a will which expressly stated: ‘this will only has effect in relation to my UK assets’. His two children were residuary beneficiaries of the will. The Claimant, who was the sole Executor of the Estate, asked the Court to construe the will as applying to the testator’s assets in Jersey, which were substantial.
The Court considered existing authorities supporting the notion that ‘the UK’ is capable of being interpreted as including the Channel Islands. It also considered the principle of interpretation of wills that, where construction of a will is ambiguous, the Court should presume that the testator did not intend to die totally or partly intestate and should construe the will in favour of testacy provided that such interpretation is fair and reasonable. Given that no further wills could be found and it was unlikely that the testator intended to die wholly or partially intestate, the Court held that the testator’s will was ambiguous in light of the nature and location of his assets and that evidence of the testator’s subjective intentions was admissible under sections 21(1)(c) and 21(2) of the Administration of Justice Act 1982.
The Court was presented with a draft will that the testator had prepared which disposed of his UK assets but also included specific legacies of his Jersey assets. The Court concluded that the draft will demonstrated that the testator intended the references to ‘UK’ in his will to include ‘Jersey’. As such, the Jersey assets passed to his children as residuary beneficiaries of the will rather than to his widow under intestacy rules.
Our thoughts on the case
In this case, there was good enough evidence of the testator’s intentions to allow the Court to give effect to what the testator intended. This may not always be the case as much will depend on the availability of evidence from solicitors’ files, such a previous draft wills. It is key that careful consideration is given to whether more than one will is required to deal with a testator’s assets in different jurisdictions or whether the wishes can be achieved by the use of one will that makes express reference to assets in other countries.