Delusions and dementia do not disprove testamentary capacity, says Court

Rebecca McCarthy web

By Rebecca McCarthy

In a recent case, the England and Wales High Court found that suffering with conditions such as dementia, confusion, memory loss and delusions may not be sufficient to invalidate testamentary capacity.

The case in question concerned the Will of an elderly farmer, Mrs Doris Harris. The Will was executed in February 2005 and left £10,000 to Mrs Harris’ daughter and £600,000 to her son and his wife. The uneven shares were not considered unusual, as the majority of Mrs Harris’ estate was her farming business, which she carried on with assistance from her son and his wife. The daughter, on the other hand, left the family home and did not participate in the business. The daughter challenged the validity of her mother’s Will on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity and want of knowledge due to Mrs Harris’ decline in mental wellbeing.

The High Court judge, Cooke J, heard evidence that Mrs Harris was suffering with confusion, memory loss, delusions and “Alzheimer’s type dementia”. Additionally, an application for state attendance allowance made on behalf of Mrs Harris was submitted as evidence that she began suffering from the above conditions as early as 2005. As a result, Cooke J stated that he was satisfied that Mrs Harris’ mental wellbeing was indeed declining and that she had begun suffering from dementia some time in 2004.

Nevertheless, Cooke J held that conditions such as dementia, confusion and memory loss do not necessarily indicate a lack of the understanding and capacity necessary to make a Will. In fact, Cooke J was satisfied that Mrs Harris did understand the terms of the Will and did approve the contents of the Will.

As such, Mrs Harris satisfied the test for testamentary capacity and the court dismissed the daughter’s claim and found that Mrs Harris’ Will was valid.

This judgment is in line with recent cases, such as Simon v Byford and Burr v Burns, in which the testator’s decline in mental wellbeing was not deemed sufficient to invalidate the Will. The judgment also re-affirmed the much established case of Banks v Goodfellow which set out the test for mental capacity in 1870.

Please note that this article was written by Giulia Del Bianco on behalf of Rebecca McCarthy.

Rebecca McCarthy is a paralegal in the Private Client team at Barker Gotelee.

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