Will, Ambiguity and the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands which include Jersey are the last vestiges of the ancient Duchy of Normandy which, following the Norman Conquest of 1066, was united with the English Crown. They have their legislature, courts and legal system. The monarch continues to exercise jurisdiction over the islands as if they were Duke of Normandy.

Jersey is not an independent state in international law. The UK government is responsible for the defence of the Channel Islands and their international relations. Jersey wasn’t a member of the EU. It is not part of the United Kingdom as defined in the Interpretation Act 1978, but is one of the ‘British Islands’. However, there are contexts where the UK has been held to encompass the Channel Islands.

The background

Nicholas Rossiter was domiciled in Russia when he died and had assets in several jurisdictions including, Jersey and the UK. Clause 1 of his will dated 13 June 2013 stated:

“I confirm that this will only have effect in relation to my UK assets”.

Shortly before his death, the deceased contacted his solicitor to request, dividing his estate ‘in the UK (incl Jersey)’ between his children and leaving his estate ‘outside the UK (incl Jersey)’ to his wife. These changes were not made before his death.

Where construction of a will is ambiguous, the Court should presume that the testator did not intend to die totally or partly intestate and in light of the nature and location of his assets evidence of the testator’s subjective intentions was admissible under sections 21(1)(c) and 21(2) of the Administration of Justice Act 1982.

The hearing

The court held at first instance that the will dealt with the Jersey assets and, in the alternative, that the will should be rectified to have that effect. As such the deceased’s children would inherit the Jersey assets as part of the deceased’s residuary estate. The deceased’s wife, who stood to inherit the Jersey assets under a partial intestacy if the will did not deal with them, appealed.

The appeal

The Court addressed the following question:

(a) is the devolution of the Jersey assets governed by the will?

(b) if not, should the will be rectified in order that it is?

If the will did not deal with the Jersey assets, there will be a partial intestacy; as a consequence Mrs Rossiter will inherit them.

If it the will dealt with the Jersey assets or is rectified to have that effect then the Jersey assets will fall into residue to which Mr Rossiter’s children are entitled.

On appeal the Court held that depending on the interpretation of the particular instrument in question the phrase “the United Kingdom” is capable of including the Channel Islands. However, since both an inclusive interpretation and an exclusive interpretation are possible the will is…ambiguous in the light of surrounding circumstances…both at the date of execution of the will and also at the date of the testator’s death.

In allowing direct evidence of the testator’s intention the Court held the deceased intended “the UK” to include Jersey and make specific legacies of his Jersey assets.

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