Wills ruled invalid due to mother’s delusions
A woman has successfully challenged her late mother’s 2010 and 2013 Wills on the basis that her mother was suffering from ‘insane delusions’ that caused her to disinherit her.
Jean Clitheroe left letters of wishes with both Wills saying that she had deliberately omitted her daughter, Susan, because she was ‘a shopaholic and would just fritter [her inheritance] away’. The Wills were both professionally drafted and the solicitor’s notes recorded that Susan was a ‘spendthrift’. However, the solicitor did not take instructions from Mrs Clitheroe in person and her son, John, had been involved in their execution.
Susan argued that her mother lacked capacity to make the Wills because, after her other daughter, ‘Debs’, died, she had suffered from a complex grief reaction followed by a continuing affective disorder characterised by depression and ‘insane delusions’.
Susan suggested the delusions were largely due to John poisoning their mother’s mind against her. Therefore, she also sought to challenge the Wills on the grounds of fraudulent calumny. However, this argument failed, as she had no direct evidence to prove he had done this.
In light of Susan’s allegations, it was for John, as the executor propounding the Wills, to prove that Mrs Clitheroe was not suffering from a disorder of the mind or, that if she was, it did not affect her decision to disinherit Susan.
The old age psychiatry experts instructed by Susan and John disagreed as to whether Mrs Clitheroe lacked the necessary capacity to make a Will. However, Susan’s expert was firm in his opinion that Mrs Clitheroe suffered from a ‘disorder of the mind’ within the meaning of the test for testamentary capacity set out in the judgment of Banks v Goodfellow.
The evidence suggested that Susan was neither a shopaholic, nor a spendthrift. The Judge found that this, and many other beliefs that Mrs Clitheroe was said to hold about her daughter, were irrational and not based on fact. He accepted that Mrs Clitheroe suffered from ‘insane delusional beliefs’ and ruled that neither the 2010 or 2013 Wills could be admitted to probate because she lacked capacity to make them.
In the absence of a valid Will, Mrs Clitheroe’s estate will be divided equally between Susan and John under the laws of intestacy.
Katie Emerson is a solicitor in the private client department at Barker Gotelee, Ipswich solicitors.