Book Review: Theobald on Wills 19th Edition
Theobald on Wills 19th Edition by Alexander Learmouth QC, Charlotte Ford, Thomas Fletcher, Master Clark and Master Shuman
Published by Sweet & Maxwell
To update this authoritative textbook on the law of Wills by removing the overlap between it and its companion volume Williams, Mortimer & Sunnucks on Executors, Administrators and Probate (WMS). In this 19th Edition of Theobald on Wills areas of relevant law from WMS are included namely validity, preparation, litigation and interpretation whilst subjects that arise in the administration of an estate are removed to be included in the next edition of WMS.
This task of making the two books separate and complementary is welcome as it is frustrating for the practitioner to try and locate a relevant issue that is contained in slightly different ways in separate textbooks.
It is simply not possible in a short review of this book to list the full contents of this volume. Suffice it to say the law of Wills is comprehensively set out over 44 chapters. The chapters are arranged in Sections: firstly, an Introduction; then we have a section on Making a Will, then one on the Procedure for contentious probate claims, a long section on Understanding a Will, then a section on Giving effect to Wills and finally a section on Professional negligence.
Structure & Layout
Within the Section and Chapter structure, the text is laid out in numbered paragraphs for ease of location of a particular topic via the index. Each Chapter has at the start a breakdown of what is included in that chapter for example Chapter 3 on the Formal Validity of Wills contains an introduction, formal validity under the Wills Act 1837, presumption of due execution of a Will, privileged Wills, forgery and registration of a Will.
Clearly, some parts of a chapter are fuller than others, for example, the section on the formal validity of a Will under the Wills Act 1837 runs to some 31 pages whereas the registration of a Will is less than one page.
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The flow of the text is uninterrupted by references which are located in footnotes at the end of each page. There is an extensive Table of Cases because at its heart this textbook is about the law and its interpretation.
There are no checklists or examples in the text just narrative. Sections of the book would benefit from an example, such as the section on the Procedure for Contentious Probate. It is not a precedent book it is a book to explain the interpretation of the law and as such the narrative style is the appropriate approach. However, I would have welcomed some practical examples.
In the section on Understanding a Will we are told when and how to go about the interpretation of Wills and also how to approach claims for rectification of Wills but it would have been useful to have more discussion on the fact that many cases involve both these issues and an example of this and why you would need to ensure that all issues are included in one claim. This would be a practical way to aid understanding.
Clarity & readability
The writing is clear and concise with good referencing to both case law and statute.
Relevance to practitioners
Any practitioner drafting Wills or interpreting Wills needs to have this book on their bookshelf. It is particularly pertinent when a Will is challenged to be able to verify the correct or likely approach to interpretation and if applicable rectification.
It will also be a valuable book for the contentious probate practitioner. As Lady Justice Asplin says in the Foreword to the book, probate cases are on the rise. This is not really surprising since we are living through a generation whose wealth surpassed that of the previous generation, due to home ownership and pensions, whose beneficiaries are particularly keen to receive their inheritance in order to pay off their debts!
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