Disputes about the validity of wills frequently centre on allegations that the deceased lacked 'mental capacity' when they created a will.
In a recent case, the court had to consider whether a man who died less than two months after writing a will was mentally competent to do so, given that he was taking a cocktail of drugs and had shown delusional behaviour.
The man had shared his home with his second wife for many years and the will he created directed that his half share of the property should not be sold during her lifetime without her consent or unless she cohabited with someone else. His ex-wife's responsibilities were limited to keeping the property insured and in good repair. In the event of her death or if her right to reside in the property ceased, the proceeds of his share were to be paid to his daughter, who was appointed executor under his will.
The relationship between husband and wife had deteriorated rapidly some months before his death, which his wife attributed to the effect of the drugs administered to him whilst he was in palliative care. The man was at times delusional and his behaviour could be very erratic: the couple's relationship had effectively broken down prior to his death.
His widow claimed that the will was invalid as he lacked testamentary capacity at the time it was made. She argued that as there was no earlier will, the estate should be distributed according to the rules of intestacy.
In the High Court, the judge relied on the testimony of social workers and the solicitor who took the man's instructions for his will and concluded that 'the evidence suggests that even if by reason of a disorder of his mind he became unjustifiably antagonistic to her, nevertheless that did not poison his affections or prevent his sense of right or was otherwise a disorder of his mind that influenced [him] in the distribution of his estate'.
Accordingly, the validity of the will was upheld.