An adopted son at war with his parents’ natural children over his £70,000 (AUD $106,000) inheritance faces losing it to them because their mother and father signed each other’s wills by mistake.
Orphan Terry Marley was ‘unofficially adopted’ at the age of 15. He spent the next 30 years living with Alfred and Maureen Rawlings and caring for them in their old age.
They intended to reward his devotion and kindness by leaving everything to him when they died and disinheriting their two natural sons.
But after their deaths it was discovered that Mr Rawlings had signed the will belonging to his wife and she had signed the identical will belonging to her husband in 1999. This made both invalid and meant the money went to the natural children after all.
Mr Marley, 50, has launched a court battle to fight for his inheritance and, after losing to the sons in the High Court, he has now taken his case to the Appeal Court.
It has never been explained why the couple cut out their sons, Terry Rawlings, 49 – an acclaimed biographer of rock stars including Ronnie Wood – and his brother Michael.
But lawyers for Mr Marley have argued that the court should allow the couple’s wish to make him their heir.
The Rawlingses lived with Mr Marley in a house in Biggin Hill, Kent,UK, from 1975, when they started looking after him, until they died. Their wills each left everything to the other partner and if the surviving spouse died then their adoptive son was to be the sole beneficiary.
The mistake over the signatures – blamed on the solicitor – came to light when Alfred Rawlings died in 2006, three years after his wife.
Teresa Peacocke, for Mr Marley, told the Appeal Court ‘there is no doubt whatsoever’ of the couple’s intentions in making their wills’.
She said: ‘There is no hint of fraud or any uncertainty or suspicion surrounding the preparation or execution of the couple’s wills.’ Miss Peacocke argued the court’s ‘paramount concern’ should be ‘to give effect to the known wishes of the deceased’.
However, Nicholas Le Poidevin QC, for the natural sons, said: ‘The fact is that the late Mr Rawlings did not sign his will, and Mrs Rawlings did not sign hers, and so he died intestate.’
He argued the longstanding ‘formalities’ laid down for the making of wills should be observed and told the judges: ‘It is inevitable that some defect of execution will occasionally cause a deceased’s testamentary wishes to be frustrated.’
The failure to sign a will was more than ‘a clerical error,’ said the QC, who urged the judges to rule that the court has ‘no jurisdiction’ to rectify the couple’s mistake.
Deciding the case against Mr Marley in the High Court earlier this year, Mrs Justice Proudman said: ‘Much as I regret the blunder I cannot repair it.’
Judgement has been reserved by the Appeal Court to a later date.