Challenges to a Will on ground of lack of capacity: Testatrix delusional thoughts of space beings, witches and Saddam Hussein not sufficient to invalidate Will
A daughter who challenged her mother’s Will on the grounds of lack of capacity and want of knowledge and approval has lost in the High Court in a case which has provided further insight into the Court’s approach when considering challenges to a Will on the ground of lack of capacity.
In the recent case of Lloyd v Jones, the testatrix was found to have retained testamentary capacity at the time of making her Will, despite evidence that she had expressed fears of an alien invasion and thoughts of Saddam Hussein invading her farm only a few months prior to her making the Will.
Mrs Harris, the testatrix, executed a Will on 26 February 2005. The Will was prepared by her niece, Dr Jones, who was also her local GP. Under the terms of the Will, Mrs Harris left a sum of £10,000 to her daughter, Sian. Mrs Harris left the remainder of her estate to her son and his wife. The estate was valued at just under £600,000, of which the farm she owned comprised approximately £575,000.
Sian sought to challenge the Will on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity and want of knowledge and approval. Sian provided a number of examples which she considered called into question Mrs Harris’ mental capacity in the years leading up to the creation of the Will.
The most notable examples included:-
- A belief that space beings or witches had landed at the farm;
- A belief that Mrs Harris had seen her mother, who had died many years earlier, at the farm; and
- A belief that Saddam Hussein had attempted to break into the farm in 2003.
Indeed as late as December 2004, some 2 months before the Will was executed, Sian claimed that she received a telephone call from her mother, in which her mother claimed that she had been invaded by space creatures and that Saddam Hussein had poisoned the water supply at the farm. Sian contended that by May 2004, her mother was suffering from dementia.
Further, in July 2005, less than 5 months after the Will was executed, Mrs Harris’ sister Sally completed a form for Attendance Allowance on Mrs Harris’ behalf in which it was noted that Mrs Harris “often hears voices and becomes very anxious, believing that people are breaking into the house.”
In her witness evidence, Sally stated that the information she inputted on the form was a retrospective account of Mrs Harris’ condition as at May 2004 when she was discharged from hospital; and that Sally had incorrectly believed that she was required to list Mrs Harris’ worst condition at any point in the last two years when completing the form, rather than her current condition.
Dr Jones had also completed the form, in her capacity as Mrs Harris’ medical practitioner, confirming that she visited Mrs Harris on a monthly basis and listed Mrs Harris’ illnesses as “dementia, arthritis of the spine, glaucoma…”
When giving evidence as to her diagnosis of dementia, Dr Jones stated that she had merely used dementia as an umbrella term, rather than in a precise sense; and had used it simply to mean that Mrs Harris had “a moment of difficulty” upon her discharge from hospital in May 2004. Dr Jones’ evidence was that, as at May 2004, Mrs Harris was not suffering from any problems with her mind.
The judge did not accept Dr Jones’ explanation of her diagnosis and held that Mrs Harris began suffering from dementia in or around May 2004. The judge also accepted that Mrs Harris did suffer from delusions intermittently. However, the judge held that this was of little significance when assessing Mrs Harris’ capacity to make a Will, as per the test laid down in Banks v Goodfellow.
Further, despite the concerns as to the credibility and consistency of the evidence of both Sally and Dr Jones, the Judge held that Mrs Harris retained the relevant testamentary capacity at the time she executed the Will.
The judge placed considerable weight on the evidence that Mrs Harris was aware of the extent of her estate, namely that she owned a farm and that this was the principal asset in her estate. Mrs Harris was also aware that she had a son and a daughter and as such was deemed able to recall the persons to whom she should give consideration in her Will. Finally, the judge was satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to show that Mrs Harris had wanted her son and his wife to inherit the farm upon her death and, as such, her desire to leave them the residuary estate, which included the farm, was a rational decision.
This case highlights the Court’s desire to uphold testamentary freedom and only to interfere with the exercise of testamentary freedom where there is clear evidence that the Will does not represent the true wishes of the person making it.
In this case, the judge focussed on the testamentary intentions of Mrs Harris and was satisfied that Mrs Harris wished for her son and his wife to inherit the farm upon her death and thus the Will represented the authentic self of Mrs Harris and was an accurate reflection of her intentions.