People Insights
Contact Us
Get in touch
Contact Us
Published On: September 4, 2013 | Last Updated On: August 29, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

What Can You do With an Unsigned Will?

For many people, death is unexpected. They die younger than they expect to, at times when they do not expect to, and often without having ‘got their affairs in order’. Of course, not everyone who lives to a ripe old age has their affairs in order either, but there is a slightly higher chance that they will have done so!

I often see clients who explain that the deceased had made their intentions clear, sometimes even to the extent of making a will, but did not have a chance to sign it. They want to know whether it is possible to put the provisions of the unsigned will into effect in any case – often to avoid the unwelcome effects of an earlier will or an intestacy.



Unfortunately, unless a will has been properly signed and witnessed in accordance with s9 of the Wills Act 1837 it will not be valid and cannot be admitted to probate. The Court will not normally step in to order that the unexecuted will take effect, although it may take the deceased’s intentions into account when considering a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. It may, of course, be possible to agree with the executors and beneficiaries that the terms of the unsigned will take effect and enter into a Deed of Variation or other forms of settlement on that basis, but this will usually only be the case when the parties are on very good terms. It may also be possible for disappointed beneficiaries to bring a claim against solicitors who have acted negligently in, for example, taking too long to prepare a will where the testator has died in the meantime.

It is also very unusual for a court to step in to complete any other type of transaction which is incomplete at the date of death – and this has been confirmed by the court in the unreported case of Waghorn v Waghorn (Executors of the estate of Waghorn deceased) (2013). In that case, the court struck out claims by disappointed beneficiaries of a trust who alleged that the deceased had intended to settle real property under discretionary trusts of which they would be the beneficiaries. The deceased’s solicitors had prepared the relevant documents for the transactions but had developed concerns about the deceased’s capacity and so they had not been signed. After investigating, it became clear that the deceased had had capacity at the relevant time, but had since developed dementia and was unable to enter into the trusts.

Following the deceased’s death, the disappointed beneficiaries registered a unilateral notice over the property, and sought recognition from the Court that the incomplete transaction be legally effective. The Court refused to do this on the grounds that the deceased had not done ‘all that she could’ to enter into the transaction – she could have signed the documents notwithstanding the misgivings of her solicitors. There was, therefore, an incomplete gift which the Court would not act to complete. The only circumstances in which the court would step in were where the donor had done everything which could be done but where the steps they had taken were not effective for some reason. This is a very high threshold, and it is unlikely to be reached in many cases.

The lesson is to expect the unexpected and, as far as possible, to be prepared. It is never too early to make a will – it can always be updated and it provides the only effective way to ensure that your wishes are put into effect after your death.

Also Read: How can you minimise the impact of death, divorce and dementia on the lives of your family members.

*Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*
  • A compassionate solicitor who considers all of her client’s concerns, and advises on the best way to resolve them, in or out of court.
  • Achieves settlements which are suitable for the individual circumstances incorporating compensation payments, the transfer of property and setting up trusts for children.
  • Completed the ACTAPS (Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists) Contentious Trusts and Probate course – the only specialist training course for this area of law.
  • Qualified Commercial and Civil Mediator, accredited by the ADR Group.
  • Recommended in The Legal 500 ‘Clare Kelly is exceptionally knowledgeable and extremely efficient, and is a good negotiator who is sensitive to her clients’ needs and finds practical solutions’
  • ‘has a great eye for detail but can also identify the crux of the dispute’ – Legal 500 2019
  • Recommended by clients:
    “[Clare] has been absolutely wonderful – so lovely, extremely bright, and a rock when it came to getting us through the last two years.”
    “Clare, you are a star of the highest order!!”
    “It has been a difficult and stressful case and you have dealt with it efficiently and skilfully and with warmth and sensitivity”.
    “Your skill, your expertise, in matters concerning Wills is I believe, second to none. Both myself and my wife will be forever in your debt….Saying thank you just doesn’t cover the gratitude and respect we both have for you.”


Get in touch

Call, email or use a contact form – whichever suits you. We’ll let you know the best person to help you get started.

Call or Email

020 7940 4060

No comments

Add your comment

We need your name and email address to make sure you’re a real person. We won’t share your email address with anyone else or send you spam. Please complete fields marked with *.

Leave a Reply

Your email address and phone number will not be published on the website. Other visitors will not be able to see your contact information. Required fields are marked *

Contact Us

How can we help?

Request a Call Back

How can we help?