In Lloyd –v- Jones and Others (2016) EWHC 1308 (Ch), the Deceased executed a Will in 2005. The Will was prepared without the involvement of a solicitor, but rather a retired General Practitioner (the First Defendant) and the niece of the Deceased.
The Will allowed for:-
- The First Defendant and her husband (the Second Defendant) to be appointed Executors.
- The Deceased’s daughter (the Claimant) to receive a bequest of £10,000.
- The remainder of the Estate to be left equally to the Deceased’s son (the Third Defendant) and his wife (the fourth Defendant) or the survivor of them.
The Estate was valued at just under £600,000 of which £575,000 was represented by a farm.
In 2010 the Deceased passed away and her daughter (the Claimant) challenged the validity of the Will on the grounds of lack of capacity and want of knowledge and approval of its terms. The Claimant’s case was that the Deceased had begun to suffer mental decline from about 2001 (some 4 years prior to the execution of the Will). By May 2004 the Deceased was admitted to hospital after a collapse and was suffering with confusion, forgetfulness, aggression and strange delusions and had developed Alzheimer’s type dementia. This was known to and discussed among the family. The Claimant argued that the execution of the Will by a relative without legal assistance aroused suspicion and that the Will had not been read over to the Deceased who could not, by reason of her long term glaucoma, read herself without a magnifying glass (which she had not had with her on the day the Will was executed).
The Defence of the Third and Fourth Defendant’s admitted that the Deceased had begun to suffer with Alzheimer’s type dementia from about the time of her hospital admission in 2004, however it was the evidence of all their family witnesses that this was not in fact the case and that the Deceased had not suffered any mental decline either at all or until much later (various dates from 2008 onwards were suggested). The Defendants argued that the Will represented the Deceased’s long stated intention to leave the farm to the Third Defendant and the Will had been prepared on her clear and specific instructions and had been read and fully understood by her. The Defendants denied that the Deceased wandered, had delusions, aggressive behaviour and was unable to care for herself.
The Court accepted that the Deceased had begun to suffer from dementia from about May 2004 (a year or so prior to execution of the Will). That would have been detectable by the First Defendant as a qualified Doctor and it was likely that she would have discussed it with members of the family as the Claimant had described. The Court also accepted that the Deceased had from time to time suffered from delusions of the type alleged by the Claimant and that she had occasionally got up and wandered in the night. The Court however found that those delusions were not of significance in relation to the question of the Deceased’s testamentary capacity. Under the relevant test, delusions were only relevant if they affected the testamentary dispositions made. In the present case, however bizarre the delusions had been, it was not suggested that they could have had any such affect, nor did wandering of itself necessarily indicate a loss of understanding as such that the Deceased would have fallen below the threshold capacity set out in previous authority.
The Court having taken account of the evidence as a whole, until at least the middle of 2006 and probably into 2007 (after the Will was executed), the Deceased had retained capacity to understand and had understood the matters essential to an effective testamentary disposition. The Court found that the Deceased had been able to read print of the size in which the Will had been prepared with or without reading glasses and, given her general level of functioning, she would not have signed a document which she had known had been a Will, unless she had, in fact, read it. Furthermore, the Deceased’s level of understanding had been such that, if she had read it, she would have understood its provisions, which were short, simple and clear. There was nothing in the terms of the Will to cause the Court to be especially concerned about whether the Deceased had, in fact understood them. It followed from those findings that the Deceased had had both the necessary capacity to make a Will, that she had read it and understood its terms and she had known and approved of the contents of the Will. The Court found that the Will made by the Deceased had been valid and the Claimant’s claim had to be dismissed.
The Claimant must have incurred a large amount of costs and will almost certainly have to pay the costs of the Defendants in a case that potentially could have been avoided. If the Will had been drawn up by a solicitor, the solicitor would have arranged for medical evidence to prove capacity and in light of the relatively small amount being left to the Claimant, anticipated that a potential claim would be made. The solicitor would have arranged for the reasons behind the small bequest to be documented and this perhaps would have given some comfort to the Claimant and have avoided the costs of these proceedings.
Additionally, by not having the Will professionally drafted, those beneficiaries took a gamble as the case could quite easily have gone the other way if the Court would have found that the Deceased did not have testamentary capacity (which the Court would have found if the Will was executed one year later).