Joan Edwards’ solicitors state her wishes were “specifically checked”: she wanted bequest to go to parties

Another twist to add to the tale of Joan Edwards’ bequest. After the furore whipped-up by today’s Daily Mail, the Lib Dems and Conservatives had little choice but to renounce the cash. But it turns out that, by doing so, the donor’s actual wishes may well have been denied. Here’s the statement from her solicitors, Davis Woods, executors of Miss Edwards’ estate:

We confirm that we act as executors of the late Joan Edwards.

The Will was drafted by a solicitor at Davis Wood in 2001.

At the time of the instructions received from the late Miss Edwards, the solicitor specifically checked with Miss Edwards about the unusual nature of her proposed bequest and it was confirmed by Miss Edwards at the time of her instructions that her estate was to be left to whichever political party formed the Government at the date of her death.

Why the wording of her will wasn’t made unambiguous, I don’t know. Perhaps she and her solicitors weren’t expecting her will to be pounced on by the Daily Mail and those who rushed to believe it? Maybe there are yet more twists in this case.

What is clear is that the Mail’s accusation that the Lib Dems and Conservatives swindled an elderly lady out of her life’s savings is untrue. If her executors are to be believed, they and the political parties concerned honoured her wishes. I won’t hold my breath waiting for an apology, though.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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19 Comments

  • What’s all this jostling? Ah, it’s the queue of knee-jerkers trying to be first with their apologies …

  • “If her executors are to be believed”

    Why on earth should they be believed? We cannot check what they say is true as the deceased is deceased. If what they say is true then why didn’t they write the word ‘party’ in the will?

    On the balance of probability it is beyond almost all reasonable doubt that she wished to leave her money to HMRC, not the political party that happened to be in power. We know this because (a) such a bequest would be incredibly unusual. Bequests are routinely made to political parties and to the government – nobody leaves their money to the political party that happens to be in power (b) if it was her wish for the money to go to the party in power then I have no doubt whatsoever that the executor would have written the word ‘party’ in the will.

    I’m not expecting an apology from you, Stephen Tall. I do expect you to keep burying your head in the sand and keep requesting apologies from those with their heads out of the sand.

  • Remember that this is a woman that they probably hadn’t spoken to in over a decade, yet they can recall a conversation with her that contradicts what they actually wrote in her will on her behalf??!!

  • The Mail has now changed their headline from saying that the party had ‘robbed’ the money to saying that they ‘took’ the money.

    When they had their original headline up robbed with in inverted commas, the only reference to the word in the whole article was in the title itself.

  • Kate MacDonald 14th Aug '13 - 2:46pm

    The key phrase here is ‘if her executors are to be believed’. Her executors comments are completely irrelevant.
    The will must be executed based on its wording, and it clearly states government, not political party.
    Incidently, I wouldn’t trust Davis Woods with my final wishes if this is the best they can do.

  • Steve, I suspect HMRC was the last organ of Govt on her mind! Most people would run a mile rather than get involved with them. It’s a pity, in a way she didn’t nominate one or more services, then it could have been an easier job. I was surprised how easy it was to put money into Govt – I thought there had been similar cases where it was claimed to be “impossible”. I remember losing my rag about it at the time! (probably shouting at the TV)

  • It still looks grubby. At a time of austerity, rather than donate an unexpected gift where it would do some public good, you pocketed it.

    It might be legally above board, but morally, it’s bankrupt.

  • Liberal Neil 14th Aug '13 - 3:27pm

    @Steve – “Remember that this is a woman that they probably hadn’t spoken to in over a decade, yet they can recall a conversation with her that contradicts what they actually wrote in her will on her behalf??!!”

    Solicitors routinely write notes when they have any contact with their clients so that they don’t have to remember things that happened ten years ago.

    “On the balance of probability it is beyond almost all reasonable doubt that she wished to leave her money to HMRC”

    Based on the evidence we have – the actions of her executors and the statement from her solicitors – I struggle to see how an objective person could reach such a conclusion.

  • I sincerely hope that the Solicitor in question has learnt how to draft a clause in plain English since that time. If it was clarified by them, then the language in the clause should have been unambiguous…

    Still fail to see why this should be a problem for either party.

  • Alex Harvey 14th Aug '13 - 3:50pm

    Wow, you guys really wanted that hundred grand.

  • @Alex Harvey – Wow, you really wanted to deny a dead lady her last wish. You noble knight, you. Arise, Sir Harvey, for services against dead people.

  • Funny this. We have rentaquoters claiming that they know more than this lady’s solicitors about her estate and intentions and another claiming it is morally bankrupt to accept bequests. Perhaps then all forms of inheritance all morally bankrupt.

    In other news, Egypt is on the verge of meltdown, there is civil war in the mid east, great economic problems are ahead but that is just an irrelevance.

  • Neil – the problem is I think the Wills have to be interpreted on the basis of what they actually say. You can’t use other material to interpret what they might actually have meant.

    It does seem extraordinary that faced with a very unusual bequest the solicitors drafted it in a way which is so open to misinterpretation. Logic (not usually something that has a lot to do with Wills law!) would suggest that the more unusual the bequest the more care to take to draft it in a way which is beyond ambiguity.

  • Cogload, someone states in their will that, specifically, they want to make a donation to the Lib Dems, that’s fine.

    Somebody makes an ambiguous statement about donating to the government which is then taking to mean donating to a political party directly by leaders of that party despite no evidence that that person supported that party, that’s what I was objecting too.

    Especially at a time when the government tell us we are all in this together, when really they’re the kind of people who would, literally, take money off a corpse at the slightest excuse.

  • Tony Dawson 14th Aug '13 - 9:28pm

    “The Will was drafted by a solicitor at Davis Wood in 2001.

    At the time of the instructions received from the late Miss Edwards, the solicitor specifically checked with Miss Edwards about the unusual nature of her proposed bequest and it was confirmed by Miss Edwards at the time of her instructions that her estate was to be left to whichever political party formed the Government at the date of her death.”

    So this Solicitor wrote one thing in the Will and something quite different in notes he has kept for 12 years to remind himself what the Will was actually meant to mean??

    Yerrrrsssss! 🙁

    Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh!….

    ……………………..it all makes work for solicitors to do! 😉

  • Andrew Suffield 15th Aug '13 - 7:32am

    Based on the evidence we have – the actions of her executors and the statement from her solicitors – I struggle to see how an objective person could reach such a conclusion.

    By keeping their objective firmly in mind?

    (Yes, I know)

  • The will has been published http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/aug/14/tories-lib-dems-urged-return-bequest and to my eyes it has some strange features, “this is the last will and testament of me”, it isn’t signed at the bottom, but at the side and there are no witness signatures.

    The solicitors say they drafted the will, but do not make clear if Joan Edwards wished to have the wording that ended up in the will against their advice, which would make sense as they say that at the time of making the will they had verbal instructions that the bequest was to whatever political party formed the government. Also I would expect them to question what the money can be used for too, as “for the Government … to use as they may think fit” is unclear if she meant the political party of the government in the earlier sub-clause.

    If I lived in Bristol I wouldn’t use Davis Woods to draft my will.

  • “The will has been published http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/aug/14/tories-lib-dems-urged-return-bequest and to my eyes it has some strange features, “this is the last will and testament of me”, it isn’t signed at the bottom, but at the side and there are no witness signatures.”

    Presumably what’s reproduced there is only the first page of the will.

  • People have said there is only one interpretation of the relevant clause, “for whichever Government is in office at the date of my death for the Government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit” and that is “for the Government for the Government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit”. However maybe the executors interpreted it as “for whichever Government is in office at the date of my death for them in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit”. With this interpretation if she had died on 1st May 2010 her estate would have gone to the Labour Party after it had left office as it was the government at the time of death.

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