by Stephen Tall on August 14, 2013
Here’s the breaking news…
BREAKING: Lib Dem source tells me the party WILL be giving Joan Edwards' money to the Government. Formal announcement very soon!
— Michael Savage (@michaelsavage) August 14, 2013
The decision was inevitable, given the furore triggered by the Daily Mail’s story this morning. However, let’s be clear. The implication of the Mail’s story — that the Lib Dems tried somehow to swindle a spinster out of her legacy — is wrong, pure and simple.
It suits the cynical anti-politics zeitgeist, but the decision was that of Miss Edwards’ executors, her solicitors. The Lib Dems did not take part in any discussions about the proceeds of the estate until it was decided by her executors that the party was a named beneficiary.
The most important thing in all this is that the wishes of Miss Edwards are honoured. As for what her actual intentions were, I don’t know. The wording of her will is ambiguous (you can read it here) as the legal blogger David Allen Green notes in his tweet here:
Am certainly not a wills lawyer, but the "whichever…is in office" suggests parties, else it is a tautology.
— Jack of Kent (@JackofKent) August 14, 2013
It would certainly seems odd to leave a bequest to which ever party (or parties) happen to be in power. But, then, why not use clear wording such “to the government for the benefit of the nation”?
Key lesson here: make sure your will is unambiguous if you don’t want your intentions to be subject to the second-guessing of strangers you’ve never met years later. There’s some useful advice courtesy of the Citizens Advice Bureau here.
Update: Joan Edwards’ solicitors statement: she wanted money to go to governing party
According to documents lodged with the Bristol District Probate Registry, the executors were James Davis and Peter Wood of Bristol-based law firm Davis Wood Solicitors and the will drafted in 2001.
The firm insisted the solicitor responsible had “specifically checked” with Ms Edwards about the “unusual nature of her proposed bequest” when it was first made.
“It was confirmed by Miss Edwards at the time of her instructions that her estate was to be left to whichever political party formed the Government at the date of her death,” it said.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and edited the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.