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Clitheroe v Bond [2020] – could the appeal pave the way for a change to the law surrounding mental capacity issues in will disputes?

Jean Clitheroe was the mother of Debra, Susan and John.

Debra sadly passed away on 19 December 2009 following a battle with cancer.

After Debra’s death Jean instructed solicitors to prepare two wills – the first on 21 May 2010 (‘the 2010 Will’) and the second on 3 December 2013 (‘the 2013 Will’).

Both of the wills left very little to Susan, with the majority gifted to John.

The loss of Debra was deeply distressing for Jean and contributed to her worsening health up until she died in September 2017.

Following Jean’s death, John issued court proceedings in which he asked the court to declare that the 2013 Will was valid and failing that that, that the 2010 Will was valid and that Jean’s estate should be distributed as per her wishes.

Susan defended the claim and argued that both the wills were invalid on the basis that Jean did not have the required level of mental capacity to make them (referred to as ‘testamentary capacity’).

Susan argued that Jean was suffering from a complex grief reaction or some other affective disorder as a result of Debra’s illness and untimely death and that this caused a poisoning of her mind against Susan, so as to deprive her of testamentary capacity.

Susan argued that Jean had formed a number of delusional beliefs about her. These included that Susan was a ‘spendthrift’ and a ‘shopaholic’ who would squander any inheritance left to her.

The court was required to examine Jean’s medical records in detail and consider her reasons for making the wills. This process aided the court to reach a decision about whether or not Jean had testamentary capacity when the wills were made.

The court concluded that there was not enough evidence to show that Jean’s beliefs about Susan were based on rational thinking. It also accepted the medical evidence that complex grief reaction can impair a person’s capacity.

The wills were declared invalid with the result that Jean died intestate, meaning her estate is split equally between Susan and John.

Following the court’s decision, John successfully applied for permission to appeal the decision. By his appeal, he seeks to overturn the High Court’s decision that the wills were invalid. An appeal hearing date is awaited.

The appeal may pave the way for a change to the law surrounding mental capacity issues in will disputes and it will be of considerable importance to this area of law.

We are always happy to have an initial call to discuss your concerns so, if you have queries about the validity of a will, then please call 020 7288 4760 to speak to Elle McDonald or another member of the Disputed Wills and Trusts team.

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