Last month, the High Court adjourned a "bitter" probate dispute between two siblings over their late mother's estate.
Ms Bond and Mr Clitheroe have been embroiled in a dispute regarding the validity of their late mother's two wills. A will is invalid if the testator lacked mental capacity at the time of making it. If a will is determined to be invalid and there is no other valid will in place, the testator will die intestate and the estate will pass under the intestacy rules.
If the mother is adjudged to have died intestate, Ms Bond and Mr Clitheroe would each receive a one-half share of their late mother's estate, believed to be worth approximately £400,000. However, if the wills are valid, Mr Clitheroe would receive his mother's estate in its entirety.
The Court at first instance held that the wills were not valid due to the deceased's lack of mental capacity. Deputy Master Linwood found that the deceased was suffering from, amongst other symptoms, "insane delusions" at the time of making both wills.
Mr Clitheroe appealed against this decision on the basis that the Master had failed to consider that it was possible to reason his mother out of her delusions and therefore, the delusions did not render his mother incapacitated at the time of making the wills, meaning they are valid.
Mrs Justice Falk, sitting in the High Court, upheld Deputy Master Linwood's decision, confirming that, for a delusion to be present, there must be a false belief which is "irrational and fixed in nature". Whether or not it is possible to reason an individual out of that false belief is not a relevant part of the test.
Mrs Justice Falk adjourned the matter for a period of three months to give the parties the opportunity to reconsider their positions and attempt to settle the matter without expending further substantial legal costs.
A finding of whether or not someone lacks mental capacity at the time of making a will is a highly fact sensitive issue and can depend on several factors, such as the individual's own mental state, the effect of any mental impairments and the doctor's mental capacity assessment (if one was undertaken). Ultimately, the issue will fall to be decided by a Judge, applying the test set out in the well-known case of Banks v Goodfellow.
If you are concerned that someone close to you has executed a will without having the requisite mental capacity, it is essential that you seek independent legal advice as soon as possible.
Our litigation department possess many years of experience in dealing with complex, high-value contentious probate claims concerning the validity of wills and other disputes involving wills and estates, and our skilled practitioners combine technical knowledge with the ability to give clear, practical, and outcome-focused advice.
To find out more or discuss your individual circumstances in further detail, contact us on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an Enquiry' form on our website.
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*This article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice.