Can a delusion make a will invalid and how do you prove that the testaor was deluded?
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In order for a will to be valid, the maker of the will (known in law as the ‘testator’) must have had testamentary capacity. If the testator lacks capacity then any will they make can be challenged and declared invalid.
If a will is invalid then the testator’s previous will is likely to apply, assuming they had capacity when it was made. If there is no valid will then the intestacy rules apply.
The test for determining whether someone has testamentary capacity was set out over 150 years ago in the Victorian case of Banks v Goodfellow. This remains good law to this day, even though the Mental Capacity Act was introduced some years ago. In summary the Banks v Goodfellow test requires the testator to:
- understand the nature of making a will, and its effects;
- understand the extent of their property being disposed of under the will;
- understand the claims which they ought to give effect to; and
- have no disorder of the mind that perverts their sense of right or prevents them exercising their natural faculties when disposing of their property under the will.
A judge has recently reviewed the Banks v Goodfellow test in the context of the evidence that is required to establish that a testator was suffering from a delusion which would render their will invalid.
The judge confirmed that a delusion is a false belief that is irrational and fixed in nature. A simple mistaken belief which can be corrected does not amount to a delusion.
The judge went on to specify that to determine whether the testator was suffering from a delusion, a “holistic assessment of all the evidence” should be conducted. This should take the following factors into account:
a) the nature of the testator’s belief that is alleged to have been delusional,
b) the circumstances in which that belief arose;
c) whether there was an evidential basis for the testator to have formed that belief;
d) whether the testator formed the belief in the face of evidence to the contrary;
e) the period of time that the belief was held by the testator; and
f) whether the testator’s belief was ever challenged.
So the answer to the question, ‘Can a delusion make a will invalid?’ is ‘yes’, but the courts will require convincing evidence to prove that a belief held by the testator was delusional, and was both irrational and fixed.