In late 2016, SD took DMM to a consultant psychiatrist for a capacity test on the basis that DMM wished to revoke the existing power of attorney and make a new one, and also to marry SD. EJ then entered a caveat at a local registry office preventing the marriage from taking place.
The proposed marriage between DMM and SD was of great importance in this case because it was feared that DMM did not have the requisite capacity to make a new will, either in contemplation of his marriage or following it. In practical terms, this meant that DMM’s daughters might stand to inherit drastically less than they would have done under the terms of his 2013 will. At the time of the hearing, the gross value of DMM’s assets was over £1.7m; if DMM were to die intestate, the majority of his estate would pass to SD which was contrary to what DMM intended when he executed his will in 2013.
Marston J was therefore asked to decide whether the test for capacity to marry should include the requirement that a person should be able to “understand, retain, use and weigh information as to the reasonably foreseeable financial consequences of a marriage, including that the marriage would automatically revoke the person’s will”. In reaching his decision, he referred to the test set out in section 3 Mental Capacity Act 2005.
Marston J concluded that the fact that DMM’s will would be revoked by the marriage was not just a “reasonably foreseeable” consequence of marriage, but that it was a certain one which would have “financial consequences” for the parties. He subsequently held that the fact that a new marriage operates to revoke a will is “information a person should be able to understand, retain use and weigh to have capacity to marry”.
Following a further report from the consultant psychiatrist, it was found that DMM did indeed understand the effect his marriage would have on his will and he was therefore found to have the requisite capacity to marry.
EJ v SD has seemingly provided some valuable protection for vulnerable testators; whilst the test for capacity to marry is low, the consequences of a marriage can be complex and wide-reaching. The addition to the common law test set out in EJ v SD may therefore assist in preventing those suffering from dementia and other conditions affecting capacity, and younger, vulnerable adults, all of whom could fail to meet the standard of capacity required for testamentary affairs, from being taken advantage of through marriage.
However, it is important that the public policy concerns addressed in previous case law are not forgotten. The test for capacity to marry must not be a difficult one to overcome; as Marston J stated, it must not present a bar against those with capacity issues and potentially deny them that which all the rest of us enjoy if we choose; a married life.