Gordon R. McKenzie



Wouldn't a person who devoted their life to the law and wrote many scholarly legal texts make a will to dispose of the large estate he had accumulated?

Between 1867 and 1870, Lord Edward St. Leonards wrote 2 wills and 8 codicils (or amendments to the wills). All were carefully tied together and stored in a locked box on the ground floor of his Boyle Farm estate in Surrey. When the Baron died in 1874, the box was opened , the codicils found, but the wills were gone (Sugden v. Lord St. Leonards, 1876).

When a will is lost the law presumes that the deceased destroyed it because he wanted it revoked. The English Court of Appeal did not apply this principle as it seemed so unlikely that Lord St. Leonards would destroy his will without making a new one. The will must have been taken by someone else.

Lord St. Leonards' spinster daughter, Charlotte Sugden, was able to recreate most of the lost wills, including an inheritance of about 25,000 Pounds for herself. In the process two of her four sisters were disinherited. Charlotte had acted as her father's secretary. He read the wills to her on at least two occasions and she had carefully read them herself. Her honesty was unquestioned and her recollection of the wills, including the gift to herself, were confirmed by references in the codicils and statements of the Baron who frequently discussed his estate plan

The wills' fate remains a mystery. Charlotte, the sisters or the Baron's male heirs all could benefit if the will went missing; and maybe Lord St. Leonards knew what he was doing all along.

This article is presented as general information only and is not to be relied on as legal advice. You should contact your lawyer to see how the law applies to your circumstances before any action is taken.

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