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Siblings caught in will dispute over mother’s £400,000 estate

A dispute has arisen between brother, John Keith Clitheroe, and sister, Susan Jane Bond, over the validity of two wills created by their late mother.

It was up to the High Court to decide whether the mother died intestate, meaning the daughter and son would receive an equal share of the £400,000 estate or whether her wills were valid, meaning everything would go to her son.

However, it appears that the mother had been suffering from an affective disorder at the time of creating the wills, which included a complex grief reaction, ‘insane delusions’ and persisting depression. Because of this, the original trial resulted in Deputy Master Linwood refusing to admit the two wills to probate on the grounds of incapacity.

The brother, Clitheroe, argued that the Deputy Master took an incorrect approach for determining whether his mother could make either will. Clitheroe appealed this decision. Not only this, but he also suggested that the judge made a mistake by misapplying the test for ‘delusions’, by failing to consider whether it was impossible to reason his mother out of the relevant beliefs. He also suggested that no real regard to relevant evidence was given, particularly around the medical meaning of ‘delusions.’

His appeal was counting on the grounds that the Deputy Master misapplied the test for testamentary capacity in light of the evidence and made findings as to delusions that were not open to him.

Mrs Justice Falk has confirmed that the right test for assessing whether a testator had the capacity to make a will remains as set out in the 19th-century case of ‘Banks v Goodfellow’.

Falk also rejected the submission that there is power in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to assess the validity of a will.

Additionally, Mrs Justice Falk went on to state that to establish whether a delusion exists, the relevant false belief must be irrational and fixed in nature.

Therefore, and in relation to the discussion on delusions, the judge has postponed the appeal for a period of three months to give the parties an “opportunity to reflect on their positions and determine whether agreement can be reached without the expense of any further hearing”.

Mrs Justice Falk also added that she had concerns about the cost of the litigation, as well as the impact of the dispute on the family.

The death of a relative or close friend is always distressing and the legal processes can seem confusing and a huge extra burden to carry. Sometimes this important task can be made more difficult because there is no will or somehow the will is invalid.

At Mander Hadley, we can help and support you through the entire process. For more advice on matters relating to will disputes, please contact us today.

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