Court outlines tests for delusional mindset when making a will

The High Court has outlined some tests for mental capacity and whether a person may have had delusional beliefs when making a will.

The issue arose following a family dispute involving a brother and sister.

Their parents had divorced in 1980 when their mother discovered letters written by her husband which revealed that he had sexually abused his daughter, the sister in this case.

When the mother died, she left the daughter out of her will because their relationship had deteriorated over the years.

The daughter responded by challenging the will.

The judge found that the mother had "taken against" the daughter and irrationally maintained that the daughter had cut her out of her life, rather than the other way around.

She made wills in 2010 and 2013. In the 2010 will she left a diamond ring to the daughter and her residuary estate to her son.

In the 2013 will she left everything to her son and his family. The daughter was to receive nothing.

She had said that she would not give anything to the daughter as she was "a shopaholic and would just fritter it away". She also believed that the daughter had never been sexually abused by her father and that there were no letters proving the abuse existed.

The judge found that the mother's beliefs were irrational to the point of being delusional. He accepted the evidence of the daughter's expert that the mother was suffering from an affective disorder which included a complex grief reaction and depression which impaired her testamentary capacity.

The brother appealed but the High Court upheld the decision and outlined the correct tests for assessing delusional behaviour.

When considering whether a testator (person making a will) held delusional beliefs impairing their testamentary capacity, the relevant false belief had to be irrational and fixed in nature.

However, it was not essential to demonstrate that it would have been impossible to reason the testator out of the belief. It would be sufficient to show that the belief was formed and maintained in the face of clear evidence to the contrary, of which the testator was aware and would not have forgotten.

The case was adjourned to allow the brother and sister time to reach an amicable agreement without the stress and cost of further court proceedings.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of wills and probate.

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