Mistaken beliefs and the validity of Wills

A recent case decided in the Bristol County Court considered the relevance of mistaken beliefs when a person is making a Will.

In Ball & Ors v Ball & Ors [2017] EWCH 1750 (Ch), the Deceased, who was the mother of eleven children, died leaving her estate to only eight of her children and one of her grandchildren. The reason for her disinheriting three of her children stemmed back to the early 1990s when they accused their father (the Deceased's husband) of sexually abusing them when they were younger. The father admitted to the abuse of two of the children, although the CPS decided not to pursue the charges in respect of one of the children.

The three children advanced a series of claims against their mother's estate. Firstly, they claimed that their mother had believed that their father was innocent of the sexual abuse allegations, and so she had prepared her Will under such a serious mistake that the Will was invalid. Secondly, they claimed that their father influenced their mother into making a Will which excluded them. Finally, they brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 that their mother's Will had failed to make reasonable financial provision for them. 

The judge found that there was not enough evidence to show that the Deceased was labouring under a mistaken belief as to her husband's innocence. Interestingly, he said that even if this had been proven, a mere mistake on its own is not enough to invalidate a Will.  Rather, a mistaken belief can be used as evidence to show that the Deceased was suffering from an 'insane delusion', or that he/she did not have a good enough memory to make a will.  In other words, the mistake can be used to show that the testator was suffering from an illness affecting his/her testamentary capacity.     

The judge found that there was no evidence to show that the father had influenced the mother in any way.  In relation to the 1975 Act claim, the judge weighed up various factors such as the fact that this was a small estate with several beneficiaries with competing interests, and dismissed the claim.  Arguments that the mother and father had a 'moral obligation' to provide for the three children, particularly as a result of the father's abuse, were dismissed.

The case is a useful reminder that mistaken beliefs may have a role to play in the assessment of the testator's capacity to make a Will, depending upon the circumstances in question. It is not only medical evidence that is relevant to the assessment of capacity, but also details of what the testator said or did which can prove to be crucial evidence as to his/her mental state when the Will was prepared.      

For more information or some preliminary, confidential advice please contact Rajvinder Kaur, Solicitor in the Disputed Wills Team, on +44 (0)117 906 9352 or email rajvinder.kaur@michelmores.com.