Dorset farmer fails in claim against father’s estate

In the recent case of James v James (2018) a farmer in Dorset has lost a claim against his father’s estate. Mr Charles James died at the age of 79 leaving his entire estate to his wife and two daughters. His son (‘Sam’ James) claimed (among other things) that the Will was invalid as his father lacked mental capacity.

There are two tests for mental capacity, the first of which can be found in the case of Banks v Goodfellow (1870), the second in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (‘MCA’).

Banks v Goodfellow says that a person is deemed to have mental capacity if:

  • He understands the nature of the Will and its effects
  • He understands the extent of the property of which he is disposing; and
  • He is aware of persons for whom he would ordinarily be expected to provide and is free from any delusions which would cause him not to provide for them.

On the other hand, the MCA introduced a new test for mental capacity, the starting point of which is that a person is presumed competent unless it is shown that they lack capacity. The key points of that are that the person must be able:

  • To understand the information relevant to the decision
  • To retain that information
  • To use or weigh that information as part of the process of making the decision; and
  • To communicate his decision.

The general view is that Banks v Goodfellow has not been overridden by the MCA, but instead complements it. In this case, after a detailed consideration of the different definitions of capacity, HHJ Paul Matthews held that the test in Banks v Goodfellow must be followed. On hearing evidence in the case, both from the family and the solicitor who drafted the Will, it was found that Charles James did have mental capacity and the Will was valid.

Much emphasis was placed on the solicitor’s attendance notes and evidence regarding Mr James’s state of mind. This emphasises the importance of taking clear advice from a professional, particularly in cases where the testator may lack mental capacity or where the Will might be disputed.

The full case report can be read here.

Rebecca McCarthy is a solicitor at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.

Personal Solicitors Ipswich – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email