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The importance of having a professionally drafted will: a case study

O’Donohue v O’Donohue [2011] IEHC 511

The poet and author Dr John O’Donoghue died in 2001, having left a one page Will that he drafted himself. His case went to The High Court to clarify the terms of the will.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan ruled that Dr O’Donoghue’s will was void due to the uncertainty of its terms and meaning. This meant that the whole of his €2 million estate would pass to his mother under the rules of intestacy.

Justice Gilligan said he was “unable to decipher the exact meaning” of the will and said O’Donohue had “unfortunately provided an illustration of exactly how a person should not make a will”. He had his mother and brother witness the Will meaning that they could no longer be beneficiaries of his estate as the law states that a witness to a will cannot be a beneficiary.

Justice Gilligan described this as a “classic error”.

In his judgment, Justice Gilligan said that a last will and testament is one of the most important documents a person will ever have made, but is too often approached without due consideration. A correctly drafted Will can ensure that a person’s wishes are met and avoid any uncertainty.

When there is any doubt, it is up to the courts to assess what it thinks was the intention of the testator. If they cannot do this, then the Will can be declared void and the estate will fall into intestacy.

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