The High Court have upheld a Will which was challenged on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity despite the fact that the testatrix suffered from dementia and delusions.
Doris Harris executed her last Will on 26 February 2005 with the help of her niece, Hedydd Parry Jones, who was also her GP. Mrs Harris did not obtain any professional help. The Will gifted £10,000 to her only daughter, Sian Lloyd, and the residue of £600,000 passed equally to her only son, John and his wife Kathy.
Mrs Harris, John and Kathy had run the family farming business as a partnership in Wales since the death of Mrs Harris' husband. Some years previously, Sian had left the family home to marry an Englishman.
Sian challenged the Will on the grounds that Mrs Harris lacked testamentary capacity and that she did not have knowledge of or approve the terms of her Will.
Sian alleged that Mrs Harris' mental capacity had been on the decline since 2001 and that by May 2004, Mrs Harris was suffering from confusion, forgetfulness, aggression and strange delusions. In particular, in December 2003, Mrs Harris spoke to Sian and informed her that aliens had landed and invaded the farm and that Saddam Hussein had broken in. Sian therefore considered that Mrs Harris had developed dementia similar to that of Alzheimer's and alleged that this behaviour was well known by the family and openly discussed.
Sian instructed a medical expert, who stated that Mrs Harris was probably suffering from moderate to severe dementia at the time the Will was executed and that it was likely, in their opinion, that she did not have sufficient testamentary capacity.
The Judge recognised that there was doubt over Mrs Harris' capacity and required John and Kathy to show that Mrs Harris did indeed have the requisite mental capacity, as laid out in the test in Banks v Goodfellow  L.R. 5 Q.B. 549.
The Judge concluded that, based on the medical evidence, Mrs Harris had suffered from dementia and delusions from time to time since about May 2004. Notwithstanding this, the Judge considered that this did not necessarily show that Mrs Harris had a loss of understanding that would fall below the threshold of capacity as set out in Banks v Goodfellow. It is important to note that Mrs Harris had previously told a number of witnesses that she wanted to leave the farm to John. The Judge considered that the terms of Mrs Harris' Will reflected her intention and that she "retained capacity to understand, and did understand, the matters essential to an effective testamentary disposition" and that she therefore had the "necessary capacity to make a will … and understood its terms and that she knew and approved of the contents of the will".
Sian's claim was therefore dismissed and the Will was declared valid.
This decision and the recent cases of Burns v Burns  EWCA Civ 37 and Simon v Byford  EWCA Civ 280 have all held that the testator / testatrix's loss of mental capacity was not sufficient to invalidate the Will. These all point to the robust approach which is being adopted by the Courts in cases of challenges to a deceased's testamentary capacity.