Ellis Jones
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Date Published:10 Mar 2016 Last Updated:25 Oct 2021

The Curious Case of the Will on an Egg

Wills, Trusts & Probate

There are some cases which become the stuff of legal legend. One such is the mysterious case of Hodson v Barnes (1926) in which the Testator chose to write his Will on an egg shell. After his death, the widow found amongst her late husband’s belongings an eggshell which bore the message “17-1925. Mag. Everything I possess”. Rumour has it that it was in fact an Ostrich egg and therefore there was perhaps no need for such succinct wording.

I have tried in vain to locate the judgment and establish why this happened and what would inspire someone to create such a bizarre document. There are many reports of prisoners in years gone by scratching their final Will and Testament onto cell walls. Of shipwrecked sailors scratching their wishes into trees and writing messages in the sand. That is quite understandable.

But why an egg? Was there a shortage of paper in 1926? Was writing on eggs all the rage? A particular talent? Could the Testator find absolutely nothing else on which to record his wishes? Or was this simply a flight of whimsy – the Testator expressing his individuality? We may never know.

The result however is that the court held that there was no reason why a Will couldn’t be written on an egg.

I suspect that the Will in question was actually held invalid, as it was not formally witnessed (a common and frustrating problem with homemade Wills) but the case set the principle that although a Will must be evidenced in writing, it need not be on paper.

This raises the question – on what else can you have a Will? We have all seen Hollywood movies in which the canny Testator films his testamentary instructions rather than preparing a written document; usually to laugh in the faces of disappointed family members beyond the grave. However, such a Will wouldn’t generally be effective in the UK.

What about a Will stored as a computer document? What if a Will was prepared, signed, witnessed and saved on a PC but not actually printed? Strictly it would be “evidenced in writing” and therefore arguably could be held valid; but the logistics of proving the Will and sending it to the Probate Registry are mind boggling.

This situation may well become a common occurrence with our increasing reliance on technology and I look forward to a UK test case of a Will written on a tablet or smartphone.