A recent decision shows that the courts place a heavy burden of proof on those who claim that a will should be invalidated because the person making it lacks testamentary capacity (the legal term for 'being of unsound mind' and therefore incapable of making a valid will).
The case involved a dispute over the final will made by a man who died in 2007. The man, who was schizophrenic with a 'severe thought disorder', had an estate of more than £1 million when he died.
In the 1990s, he had made a series of wills which left his estate to the sons of his younger sister. In 2006, however, he made a new will. This left his sister's sons a legacy of £5,000 to be shared between them. The rest of his estate he left to two charities with which he had no prior connection. The will was opposed by his family, who claimed that he lacked testamentary capacity when he made it.
There was no dispute that the man had suffered from a thought disorder and exhibited behavioural abnormalities throughout his entire adult life.
However, the question before the court was whether or not the man was mentally capable of making a will at the time he made it. The court heard evidence that he had undertaken property transactions, which indicated that he was capable of acting rationally. It was also claimed that he thought that his nephews were stealing from his mother, so he believed there was good reason to exclude them from his will.
In the circumstances, the court accepted that the man did not lack testamentary capacity when he made his 2006 will and declared that it was valid.