If someone asked you what was meant by the term ‘money’, what would you say? Would you define it as simply the cash you currently have in your wallet, in the bank, your shares? What about debts owed to you?

Will drafting may be considered by some to be a somewhat simplistic area of the law. However there is great danger if a will is drafted badly and as most succession lawyers can attest, one’s testamentary wishes may not be honoured because of drafting issues.

In Perrin v Morgan [1943] AC 399, the UK House of Lords heard on appeal a decision originally handed down by the UK Court of Appeal in 1942. Defining the term ‘money’ was precisely the question to be considered.

The Testator died, leaving a home-made will. This will directed that ‘all moneys of which I die possessed shall be shared by nephews and nieces now living’. The main issue in contention was whether the Testator meant for the term ‘all moneys’ to encapsulate her whole personal estate. The Testator’s personal estate was mainly comprised of investments (stocks, shares, debentures etc.) and it was questioned whether this phrase ‘all moneys’ was to include these investments.

The traditional view of the courts was to define the term ‘money’ quite narrowly. ‘Money’ was defined to include actual cash, cash held at the bank, dividends due and similar choses in action. The Court of Appeal originally upheld this narrow definition on the basis that ‘they could find no context in the will enlarging the meaning to be given to the word [money]’.

The House of Lords reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision on the basis that it was necessary to consider the context in which the will was drafted and to look beyond the words of the will. The House of Lords was concerned with avoiding a construction of the will which would give the term ‘money’ a specific legal meaning that was markedly different from the ordinary use of the term ‘money’ in the English language.

The House of Lords construed the phrase ‘all moneys’ to include the Testator’s investments based mainly on the fact that it was a home-made will (and it was commonplace for a lay person to define the term ‘money’ as to include their personal estate) and that to construe the term ‘all moneys’ narrowly would cause an unnecessary partial intestacy which arguably the Testator wanted to avoid by drafting a will in the first place.

The effect of Perrin v Morgan has been to accept the need to look beyond the wording of a will and rather to look at the intentions of the will-maker and the circumstances surrounding the drafting of the will.

So for those of you who are considering drafting your own wills, always consider the implications of every word you add (or omit) in your documents. Although the rule in Perrin v Morgan allows for the context surrounding a will to be considered (in certain circumstances), it is prudent to consider carefully your choice of words.