14 June 2024 by Grace Gannon

Challenging a Will on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity

There are four potential grounds under which a Will can be challenged, namely:

  1. The testator (the person making the Will or Codicil) was unduly influenced to do so or the Will was obtained by fraudulent calumny (see our previous blog here).
  2. The testator did not have the relevant testamentary capacity to execute the Will.
  3. The testator did not know or approve the contents of the Will.
  4. The testator did not execute the Will or Codicil correctly.

As mentioned above, one of the grounds under which to challenge a Will is if the testator did not have the relevant testamentary capacity to execute the Will. This was the case in Davies v Watts [2024], in which judgment was handed down on 17 May 2024 by the High Court.

The facts

Philip Price (‘Philip’) died in January 2019, having made a Will on 14 December 2018 (‘the Will’) three weeks before his death. The Will was signed 24 hours after he was discharged from hospital, after being treated for pneumonia and sepsis and, during this time, he experienced acute delirium.

The claimant, Vanessa Davies (‘Vanessa’), a close friend of Philip, who was set to inherit most of the circa £800,000 estate pursuant to the terms of the Will, applied to the court to have the Will proven in solemn form.

The application was disputed by Philip’s half-sister, Barbara Watts (‘Barbara’), who tried to challenge the Will on the basis that Philip did not have capacity to make it and did not approve its contents due to his medical condition.

It is noteworthy that Barbara only discovered that Philip was her half-brother after his death.

If lack of capacity could be proven, the Will would be struck out by the court and Barbara would inherit the whole estate pursuant to the rules of intestacy, as Philip’s last surviving relative.

At trial

The key points from the judgment handed down by Judge Jarman KC in the High Court are as follows.

  1. Testamentary Capacity

The Court found that despite Philip’s stay in hospital, he did have capacity. To determine this, the judge relied on psychiatric reports, provided by both parties, as well as witness statements by friends of Philip.

Crucially, this highlights the importance of non-medical evidence in cases involving testamentary capacity. This is particularly useful in cases where there is an absence of medical records, as was the case in Davies v Watts.

  1. Approval of Contents

The Court found that Philip knew and approved the contents of the Will.

Witness statements were provided by Vanessa, as well as friends of Philip, which attested to his mental sharpness. One of the statements defended the decision not to have a capacity assessment at the time of execution of the Will, on the basis that there were no signs of any mental impairment.

  1. Relationship with the beneficiary

Philip had a long standing 25-year relationship with Vanessa, which further supported the Court’s findings, and there was no evidence to suggest that he was unaware of or had been influenced by Vanessa regarding the Will. This fact, as well as the fact that Philip had no knowledge of Barbara’s existence during his lifetime, aided the Court’s dismissal of Barbara’s claim.

Ultimately, Vanessa’s claim in proving the Will in solemn form was successful and Barbara’s counterclaim was dismissed.

If you would like any advice on bringing or defending a claim to challenge a Will, please contact our Disputed Wills and Trusts team for specialist advice.

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