Soldiers' Wills Can Be Complicated

A bitter dispute over an alleged Last Will and Testament of a British Marine killed in Afghanistan made the headlines and brought into sharp focus the unique and complex law surrounding wills for British service men and women.

In December 2008 Cpl Rob Deering was killed after stepping on a Taliban booby trap mine whilst rushing to help his injured colleagues in Helmand Province. He was serving with the Commando Logistic Regiment.

At the time of his death Cpl Deering was in a relationship with his girlfriend, Gemma Polino and had been for four and a half years. Earlier in 2008 (before Cpl Deering returned to Afghanistan in August) they had moved into a £148,000 house in Sheldon, Birmingham. They were due to marry this May.

Upon Cpl Deering's death, Miss Polino attempted to claim the proceeds of his estate on the basis that she was aware that he had executed a will shortly before returning to Afghanistan leaving his estate, including his share of the house and a life assurance policy to cover the mortgage, to her. If such a will existed then it would supersede a will written in 2006 in which Cpl Deering left his estate to his sister, Elaine.

Despite searches being undertaken by the MOD, however, there appears to be no record of a new will as described by Miss Polino. For her part she insists that Cpl Deering handed the document in just before he left for Afghanistan but it was lost by unit administrators before it could be sent for safekeeping to the documents handling unit in Glasgow.

The family, on the other hand, denies that Cpl Deering would have executed such a document and say that his colleagues had told them of his intentions to leave the bulk of his estate to them.

Disputes over wills of members of the armed forces are not uncommon and Hugh James solicitors has previously dealt with matters arising in the estate of Pte Gavin Williams, a young servicemen from South Wales who died leaving a standard services will in which he bequeathed his entire estate to his then girlfriend to the exclusion of his family, including his younger sister to whom he was very close and who suffered from a disability.

Unfortunately, by the time that Pte Williams died he had long split up with his girlfriend but had not taken any steps to alter the terms of his will. Moreover, due to the nature and timing of his death, Pte Williams' estate was substantially larger than he perhaps could ever have envisaged at the time that he made it. Notwithstanding those...

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