overturning the will

Overturning the Will on the Ground the Testator Was Delusional

Will claim Solicitors, specialist no win no fee will dispute and will contest Solicitors, highlight how a Will can be overturned by proving the testator was delusional

“Insane delusion” – the perpetual bridesmaid of Will contest and Will validity disputes

The bulk of claims against the legal validity of Wills concern questions over, for example:

  • Fraud and forgery
  • Whether the Will was signed in front of two witnesses who also signed (in compliance with section 9 of the Wills Act 1837)
  • The capacity of the testator to make the Will
  • And (perhaps related to capacity) whether the testator knew and approved the contents of the Will

Even in our own website there is nothing mentioned on the primary page about “Will validity” in connection with this issue!

This is though an unusual ground for disputing or contesting the legal validity of a Will and often one that is particularly difficult to prove unless it is associated with mental capacity issues, which are likely to be treated by medical professionals therefore clearly documented. Insane delusions are, in our experience, simply not picked up in the same way by medical and/or legal professionals.

What exactly is an “insane delusion” and how is it proved?

I once dealt with a difficult boundary dispute (arising out of a successful financial provision claim in a farming case). It was successfully concluded (as far as I was concerned) although the boundary was not in the location that the client wanted. Nevertheless, the location was rather obvious. There was a rather large hedge in situ which plainly constituted the line of the boundary and the Judge agreed. My description (of the hedge) to the client was that if “it looks like an elephant it probably is an elephant”. The Judge clearly agreed. An insane delusion is likely to have the same self-evident manifestation. You will understand what it is when you come across it but inevitably it will take different shapes and forms depending on the facts before you. It is though going to be some bizarre and clearly incorrect ground for disinheriting a close member of the testator’s family; probably his/her child.

This is exactly what was considered in Clitheroe v Bond [2021] EWHC 1102 (Ch),

where Mrs Justice Falk considered and ruled on an appeal against the earlier decision of Deputy Master Linwood who ruled against the legal validity of two Wills on the grounds of
incapacity (and/or insane delusion), finding that the Banks v Goodfellow test remained good law. Whilst she did not make findings over the correct interpretation and application of the test for delusions, her commentary provides a helpful guide to the likely application of the law. Moreover, as is typical in these cases and alluded to above, there was no suggestion that the deceased (Mrs Jean Mary Clitheroe) was suffering from any cognitive impairment:

She was found by every treating clinician to have had capacity, including just before her death, albeit she at no stage had a full psychiatric assessment. She did, however, undoubtedly suffer from a number of other medical problems, including ones that impacted her mobility.

A snapshot of Mrs Justice Falks comments (comprising the key elements of any claim against the legal validity of a Will based on “insane delusion”)

A false belief on the part of the testator which is adverse to the prospective beneficiary is the reason for the disinheritance

The trial was also conducted on the basis that the Deputy Master needed to determine whether various factual bases that Jean might have had for making the wills in the form that she did were actually true, and whether there was any rational basis for her to believe them (Judgment at [15] and [16]). One of these, which is clearly of real significance, was an allegation that Sue had falsely accused her father of sexual abuse and had thereby broken her parents’ marriage. John’s case at trial was that this was indeed the case. The Deputy Master had no difficulty in concluding, based on clear contemporary evidence, that Sue’s account could not be impugned (Judgment at [174]). In particular, it was Jean who discovered letters from Keith to Sue detailing the abuse, which were seen by doctors and were also used in the divorce, although Jean shied away from prosecution. However, the judge found that from 2009, just before Debs died, Jean started to maintain and continued to maintain until her death that the allegations of abuse were untrue and that there were no letters. He found this irrational to the point of being delusional (Judgment at [168] and [169]).

The testator is suffering from a disorder of the mind (but not necessarily diagnosed) although this may not be a prerequisite

One question that arises is the precise relevance of the medical definition of “delusion” to the legal test of testamentary capacity. This was not the subject of specific submissions so I limit myself to a few observations. First, the Banks test of incapacity must not be understood as being limited to incapacity caused or manifested by a “delusion” as now clinically understood. A far broader category of disorders may result in incapacity, and the 19th century cases need to be considered with that in mind. Secondly, the list of disorders is not necessarily closed. Key v Key provides
an example of testamentary capacity being found to be lacking as a result of the effect of bereavement, both experts in that case having accepted that bereavement could cause an affective disorder (see paragraph [95] of that decision). Thirdly, Professor Jacoby’s evidence was that a delusion requires a disorder of the mind, that is some form of mental illness (see [94] above). Dr Series confirmed at the trial that he largely agreed with Professor Jacoby’s evidence on this issue, and he also specifically confirmed that there are “delusional disorders for which the evidence of mental disorder is only the delusion”. In addition he stated that if Jean had a delusion then it was “very possible that that was related to an affective disorder” (see [93] above).

107. Put another way, as I understand the expert evidence a delusion (in the clinical sense) is not itself a medical disorder, although it may be evidence of one. In this case, and as discussed further below, the Deputy Master’s conclusion was that Jean was suffering from an affective disorder.

The delusion must be irrational and fixed in nature but it seems doubtful that it must be shown an attempt (unsuccessfully) was made to persuade the testator out of his/her false belief and/or that it would have been unsuccessful, if made

b) In order to establish whether a delusion exists, the relevant false belief must be irrational and fixed in nature. It not an essential part of the test that it is demonstrated that it would have been impossible to reason the relevant individual out of the belief if the requisite fixed nature can be demonstrated in another way, for example by showing that the belief was formed and maintained in the face of clear evidence to the contrary of which the individual was aware and would not have forgotten.

If you consider any of these facts and matters are of interest, are likely to apply to you, or you would like to ask us for more information about our no win no fee arrangement, or you simply want us to assess your claim, then please do not hesitate to contact us for a confidential no strings chat.

You should also read our article on contesting a will.

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