Making a Will? Court Ruling Underlines the Benefits of Professional Advice

Engaging a professional to draft your will and give advice has many advantages that may not be apparent at the time. In a case on point, a lawyer's prudence in arranging a medical assessment of an elderly client proved decisive in the Court of Appeal's decision to uphold the validity of his final will.

Following the death of an elderly farmer and businessman, his estate was valued at almost £2 million. By his first two wills, he left business assets to two of his children and farmland to his third. After the third child died suddenly, however, he instructed a solicitor to draft a new will which made significantly different bequests.

He had been experiencing problems with his memory for some time and the death of his child had a devastating impact on him. The solicitor was concerned to ensure that he had the mental capacity required to make a valid will and, with that in mind, she asked the man's GP to carry out an assessment.

After doing so, the GP noted that he was fully orientated and gave no appearance of being confused or distressed. He was able to go through the will, bit by bit, with very little prompting. After an inheritance dispute developed within the family, however, a judge found that the will was invalid for want of testamentary capacity.

Reversing that decision, the Court noted that the case raised important issues about the proper weight to be attached to the evidence of a drafting solicitor and a medical practitioner's assessment of capacity. The man was astute enough to realise that it might be sensible to change his will following his child's death and the document he signed was rational on its face.

The solicitor had prudently enlisted the GP's assistance and was entitled to, and did, rely on his medical assessment. Neither of them was required to question the man as to his reasons for changing his will. The Court concluded that, had proper weight been given to their evidence, it would not have been open to the judge to find that the will was invalid.