People may be blinkered, difficult and downright ruthless but that does not mean that they are incapable of making a rational will. The High Court made that point in the case of a highly successful businessman who all but disinherited his children.
By his final will, the man bequeathed about £2 million to extended family members, friends and others whom he considered deserving. He left an estimated £4 million to a charitable trust he had established for the benefit of the people of his home town. His three children received just £5,000 each and his grandchildren nothing.
The trustees of the charity launched proceedings, seeking judicial confirmation of the will's validity. However, their application was resisted by one of the children, who asserted that the will was irrational. She argued that her father, who was aged 84 and had colon cancer when he made the will, was suffering from a personality disorder which had poisoned his mind against his immediate family.
Ruling on the case, the Court noted that he had a history of mental health difficulties. Almost 40 years before his death, he was made the subject of a hospital order after he admitted conspiring to murder his wife. However, he subsequently rebuilt his financial fortunes and was a wealthy man when he died, a few weeks after making the will.
He had an intensely difficult relationship with his children and had at one point cut off communication with them altogether. He lacked any understanding of the emotional harm that they had suffered during their childhood, instead viewing himself as the victim. He loved his children and showed them financial generosity for many years. However, he exploited his wealth as a means of exerting control over them.
The Court found that he was a complex person for whom business was always the dominating factor. Although a first-class operator when it came to finance, he lacked human warmth and empathy. He held strong, sometimes blinkered, views and the medical evidence suggested that ruthlessness, ambition, absorption in work and a suspicion of others formed parts of his personality.
He exhibited some features of a personality disorder. However, the Court noted that such disorders are relatively common in the general adult population and by no means entail a loss of capacity to make a valid will.
In upholding the will's validity, the Court noted that a solicitor had taken him through its terms in detail before he signed it. His gift to the trust reflected his abiding wish to leave a long-term legacy behind him. Although his lack of provision for his children and grandchildren might be regarded as unfair, the will was rational and there were no circumstances surrounding its execution to excite the Court's suspicion.