The High Court, in the case of Lloyd v Jones and Others  EWHC 1308 (Ch), has recently considered whether the will of a person who was found to have had dementia and suffered delusions was valid.
Mrs Harris was a widow who had two children, Sian and John. At the time of her death, on 10 December 2010, she had assets of around £600,000 which included a farm worth £575,000. She also had a share in a farming business partnership which she ran with her son, John, and John’s wife, Katherine.
Mrs Harris executed a will on 26 February 2005 which had been prepared by her niece, Dr Parry Jones, without the involvement of a solicitor. This was the only will Mrs Harris had executed. Dr Parry Jones was also Mrs Harris’s GP.
That will provided a gift of £10,000 to Sian, with the rest of the estate being divided equally between John and Katherine, or the survivor of them.
Sian challenged the validity of the will on the grounds that her mother did not have the mental capacity to make the will, and that she did not have knowledge and approval of the terms of the will. If the will was found to be invalid, Sian would stand to benefit from half of her mother’s estate under the rules of intestacy.
She asserted that Mrs Harris had been suffering from delusions, dementia, aggression, confusion and forgetfulness since May 2004. Sian said that her mother told her of aliens landing at the farm, poisoning the water supply and invading the farm, and of Saddam Hussein having broken in.
In addition, she said that Mrs Harris had glaucoma and was unable to read without a magnifying glass, which she was said not to have had with her when executing the will, and the will had not been read to her.
The Court heard evidence from many witnesses, including Mrs Harris’s family members, regular visitors to the caravan site run from the farm who had known Mrs Harris for several years, and a council officer who had had dealings with Mrs Harris between 2004 and 2006. The Court also considered the medical records which were available and reports prepared by a psychiatric expert who Sian had instructed.
Several of the witnesses had stated that they had seen Mrs Harris reading and had not seen her doing so using a magnifying glass, and the Court was satisfied that she would have been able to read the will. The Court also determined that the terms of the will reflected her intention, which Mrs Harris had told a number of the witnesses, to leave the farm to John.
In relation to capacity, the legal test is set out in the long established case of Banks v. Goodfellow (1870) under which the testator (the person making the will) must:
- understand the nature of the will and its effect;
- have some idea of the extent of the property of which they are disposing under the will;
- be aware of the persons for whom the testator would usually be expected to provide (even if he chooses not to); and
- be free from any delusion of the mind that would cause them reason not to benefit those people.
The Court concluded that Mrs Harris was suffering from dementia at the time the will was made but was satisfied on the evidence, particularly by that of the non-family witnesses, that Mrs Harris “retained capacity to understand, and did understand, the matters essential to an effective testamentary disposition” and that her level of understanding at the time the will was made was such that she would have understood the clear and simple provisions of the will.
The Judge concluded also that Mrs Harris at times had suffered from delusions, though as the delusions did not affect the dispositions made in her will they were not relevant.
Sian’s claim was dismissed and Mrs Harris’s will was held to be valid.