Cases where the validity of a will is challenged are always interesting but the facts of a case heard in June 2016 are perhaps more extraordinary than most.
Mrs Harris died on 10 December 2010 and her daughter, Sian, challenged the validity of her will dated 26 February 2005 on the ground that her mother lacked the necessary testamentary capacity and did not have knowledge and approval to effect the will. The claim was defended by Mrs Harris’s son, Ioan, and his wife, Kathy and also by Dr Parry Jones and her husband, the executors of the will. Ioan and Kathy were the main beneficiaries of the will and Dr Parry Jones had taken instructions for and drafted the will. Dr Parry Jones is a retired GP and niece of Mrs Harris.
If the will had been found to be invalid, Mrs Harris’s estate would have passed on intestacy and been shared equally between her two children, Sian and Ioan.
Mrs Harris’s estate mainly comprised a farm in Wales valued in the region of £600,000. According to the many friends of Mrs Harris who testified at the trial, Mrs Harris had always indicated an intention to gift the farm to Ioan on her death.
The court heard evidence from Sian that her mother suffered from dementia at the time that the will was drafted and that her mother’s mental decline began around 2001. Sian submitted that Mrs Harris suffered from confusion, forgetfulness, aggression and strange delusions that included a belief that space beings or witches had landed at the farm and that her own mother was there with her, although she had been dead for many years. In or around December 2004, Mrs Harris had made calls to Sian saying that she had been invaded by space creatures and that Saddam Hussein had poisoned the water supply at the farm.
Mrs Harris’s friends testified that they had not heard of any such delusions and Dr Parry Jones denied that Mrs Harris was suffering from dementia. This was despite Dr Parry Jones completing an attendance allowance application in July 2005 in which she stated that Mrs Harris was suffering from dementia. Dr Parry Jones sought to explain this away as either a misunderstanding of what the form said or a reference to Mrs Harris’s condition in 2004 when Mrs Harris had been admitted to hospital.
The court considered the test for testamentary capacity and, in particular, whether the delusions alleged were such that Mrs Harris could be held not to have had the necessary capacity to execute her will in February 2005.
The judge found that Mrs Harris was suffering from dementia from May 2004 after her admission to hospital but did note that the medical notes (largely completed with Dr Parry Jones) did not give a specific diagnosis of dementia. The judge accepted that Mrs Harris may have suffered from delusions from time to time but did not consider them to be of significance in relation to the question of her testamentary capacity and said that “delusions are only relevant if they affect the testamentary dispositions made”.
The judge placed significant weight on the witness evidence of non-family members and was satisfied that, until at least the middle of 2006 and probably into 2007, Mrs Harris retained capacity to understand, and did understand, the matters essential to an effective testamentary disposition.
The judge commented in relation to knowledge and approval that it was not irrational that Ioan’s wife, Kathy was to inherit jointly with Ioan, or might even be the sole inheritor if Ioan predeceased her. The judge commented that “Kathy was a member of the farming partnership and had been involved in running the farm for many years. Some may have considered it inappropriate to put family by marriage in a position potentially better than that of an immediate blood relation, but it is not necessarily irrational to do so”.
Therefore, despite the extraordinary nature of the delusions from which Sian claimed that her mother suffered, the judge reached the conclusion that Mrs Harris had both the necessary capacity to make a will, that she did read it and understood its terms, and that she knew and approved of the contents of the will.
Delusions, however strange, therefore, will not necessarily result in lack of testamentary capacity.