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What is the test for capacity when making Wills? 

Since recent developments now mean that video-witnessing Wills can be acceptable, as a last resort, our local solicitors for Wills are considering, more than ever, our client’s capacity when making a Will, and whether there is a tried and tested method for checking that someone has “testamentary capacity”, especially when our team of expert Will drafters are meeting clients face-to-face less frequently. 

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Instruct our Wills solicitors in Longridge, Lytham, Garstang, and Lancaster, with confidence that you will be provided with a five-star service from our dedicated team. 
At MG Legal, our solicitors pride themselves on being experts in their field. The advice we give is honest, clear, and easy to understand. We are a small firm, which allows us to give your needs that personal touch, and care and attention that each and every client deserves. At MG Legal, you will deal with the same person whenever you ‘phone the office, attend a meeting, or require advice, so you will never be passed around, from person to person. Our Wills and Probate department are a friendly and approachable team who will handle your matter, with care and attention, from start to finish. 
Our reviews speak for themselves, confirming why you should choose MG Legal’s solicitors to handle your Wills, Trust and Probate matters. Take a look yourself. And remember, we offer home visits for our clients who are unable to get to the office. Get it right first time, with MG Legal- your local solicitors.  

The Banks v Goodfellow Test for Capacity 

Assessing testamentary capacity, that is the capacity of the person making the Will, is based on a test set out in case law. Therefore, it is not a guessing game for our team of local solicitors for Wills to decide whether somebody is able to make a Will, merely a case of applying the correct test and our judgment. Such test can be found in the case of Banks v Goodfellow (1870)
Banks v Goodfellow states that the person making the Will must comply with the following: 
1. They must understand the nature of making a Will and the effects of it; 
2. They must understand the degree of their Estate, that being the property and other assets (“Property”) that they have, as well as any liabilities, that they will be giving away, or disposing of; 
3. They must understand and reasonably foresee any potential claims which they ought to give effect to; and 
4. They must not have any disorder of the mind, preventing their use of their natural faculties or their sense of right in giving away their Property by their Will. 
The test may seem fairly straightforward, however, our Wills Solicitors would explain that the level of understanding that the test requires would depend on how complex the testator intends the Will to be, the assets that they own, and any claims that could be made against the Estate. Our Will Solicitors have discussed claims against an Estate, here

Assessing Capacity When Drafting Wills 

Where it is impractical to obtain medical evidence, or even impossible, the Courts will accept the assessment of a solicitor, as long as it is robust and includes some carefully worded questions. In addition, solicitors should keep an accurate and detailed record of the meetings with clients, and the discussions had. 
This was highlighted by the recent case of Barnaby v Johnson [2019], where the judge commented that if all files kept by solicitors were thorough, like the solicitor’s file in this matter, then it could help to avoid some of the disputes arising in Probate matters and similar claims. Likewise, it would help to make the court confident in the evidence provided, as well as in the professional abilities of the witness concerned. 

The Golden Rule 

In addition to the rules outlined above, additional guidance was also provided by a prominent lawyer and judge, Lord Templeman. Lord Templeman established the principle known as the “golden rule” in the case of Kenward v Adams (1975)
In the case of Kenward, Lord Templeman gave guidelines for Wills Solicitors, and others, preparing Wills for elderly clients or those who may have suffered a serious illness. The main point being that, in these cases, the Will should be witnessed and approved by a person who can satisfy themselves of the capacity and understanding of the testator, namely a medical practitioner. 

Applying the Banks v Goodfellow Test and the Golden Rule 

So, you may be wondering how this works when our local Wills Solicitors take instructions. 
Well, at our initial meeting our Wills Solicitors will go through a variety of standard questions with our clients: their name, date of birth, and address, how long they have resided in a property, whether they have made a Will previously, and details of their family – such as children and grandchildren – or former marriages. 
We will also take details of the assets held by the client and any liabilities that they have, to check the extent of their Estate, and to ensure that they are accurately able to provide us with details of this. 
Next, we would go through how the client wants their Estate to be divided, including details of any gifts, and who should be appointed to deal with the Estate after the client’s death, also known as the Executor. 
In terms of the Golden Rule, this is, obviously, required less often, as many of our clients will approach us when they still have complete capacity to make a Will.  
However, as you would expect, there are cases where our client’s capacity could be questioned. We therefore ensure that we are rigorous in our tests of their ability to make a Will, as well as ensuring, if required, that a relevant medical professional has confirmed their capacity. 

What happens if capacity is uncertain? 

As explained above, in the event that our team of local Wills Solicitors are ever in doubt about a person’s capacity to make a Will, or if your loved one is considering making a Will and they want to ensure that there are no disputes over their capacity after they have died, it is always advisable to seek the expertise of a suitably qualified medical practitioner, who can say, with almost certainty, whether the testator has capacity. 

The Case of Templeman v Goss-Custard (2020) 

You are probably wondering whether the Templeman in this case is the same as the one who set out the Golden Rule: it is. 

The Facts of the Case 

In brief, Lord Templeman died in 2014, after amending his Will some 6 years prior, in 2008. The validity of Mr Templeman’s Will was disputed, on the basis that he had issues with his short-term memory, although he was never medically diagnosed with any condition prior to his death. 
In essence, a claim was brought by Mr Templeman’s two children, and others, disputing the validity of his Will, following a change he made in 2008, leaving his main residence to his deceased wife’s step children, Jane and Sarah. 

The Court Case 

The judge heard how Lord Templeman and his wife, who predeceased him in 2004, had made Wills which, whilst not mirror Wills, accounted for the other’s intended recipients in their own Will. 
This meant that Lord Templeman’s 2004 Will left the bulk of his assets to two children, Peter and Michael. 
However, under his 2008 Will, his children were only to receive the residuary of his Estate, after the gift of the property had been taken into account. 
The parties contested Lord Templeman’s capacity to change his Will in 2008, on the basis that there was no rational explanation for the change that was made in the 2008 Will with regards to Lord Templeman’s main residence. 

The Decision 

After considering whether Lord Templeman’s lack of short term memory would have any effect on his capacity, the court held that, in fact, it was not sufficient to classify as a “disorder of the mind that poisoned his affections, perverted his sense of right or prevented the exercise of his natural faculties” (Templeman v Goss-Custard [2020], paragraph 143). 
The judge therefore held that he was prepared to admit the Will to probate in solemn form, meaning that the 2008 was held to be valid. 

The Golden Rule 

Throughout the case, the evidence provided by both sides shows that Lord Templeman was aware of his memory recall issues, although the scope of such issues at different stages of his life was slightly disputed. 
It appears as though even Lord Templeton was aware of the issues that he had. Therefore, it seems strange that, as the judge who established the Golden Rule, he did not think it was necessary to ensure that he complied with this, his witnesses being his solicitor and an unrelated individual. 


Well, as can be seen form the facts of the case of Templeman v Goss-Custard, whilst Lord Templeman himself thought it was best to obtain a medical practitioner’s signature to Wills where there was any doubt over testamentary capacity, in not doing so, he did not invalidate his own Will. 
Many people would presume that, when their parents die, they will receive most – if not all – of their Estate. A person’s Estate is usually made up of any property that they owned at the date of their death, their money in banks or savings accounts, stocks and investments that they held, less any liabilities, such as mortgages, loans, credit cards, and testamentary expenses. 
In some cases, a person may inherit less, or more, off their parents than what they had expected to. Other people will know exactly what they are going to receive, perhaps having been told by their parents during their lifetime or having dealt with their parent’s finances as their Attorney. 
Our Wills Solicitors have, on more than one occasion, been contacted by a person whose parent has not left them anything whatsoever in their Will. In one such case, the deceased parent had allegedly promised their child that they would receive compensation for money that was spent during their lifetime (through a family business), however, in their Will, there was no such gifts made. 
Whilst it can seem frustrating for a person to be excluded from benefitting from their parents' Estates, a recent High Court case has highlighted that, just because it’s your parents' money, it doesn’t mean that you are automatically entitled to receive this when they die.  
Our team at MG Legal would always advise that, no matter what the circumstances are surrounding your parent’s promises during their lifetime, you cannot necessarily rely on these when they have passed away. In the case of Shapton, discussed above, her claim was not necessarily made on the basis of promises made to her by her father, however, Mrs Shapton still felt that her father should have considered her when he made his Will. As can be seen from the facts of the case, her father did not consider protecting the inheritance for his children, therefore leaving it up to his wife whether she decided to leave them any gifts. You should seek expert legal advice about whether you have sufficient grounds to make a successful claim. 

The Shapton Case 

The facts of the case. 

Colin Seviour passed away in 2016, leaving his blended family (i.e. his wife, and her stepchildren – Colin’s children) arguing over arrangements such as Mr Seviour’s funeral. Mr Seviour had left his entire Estate, worth £268,000, to his wife, Maria Seviour. 
The Court was informed of how Mr Seviour was given advice about the options of leaving his Estate in Trust, to protect his inheritance for his children. However, as they were financially stable, he had made the decision to leave everything to Maria, an NHS worker. 
Due to the deteriorating relationship between the stepmother and the children, Maria made a decision to amend her Will, excluding all of her stepchildren from benefitting from her Estate. 
Subsequently, one of Mr Seviour’s children, Carly Shapton, brought a case against her father’s Estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, applying to be granted £75,000.00 of the Estate. Mrs Shapton claimed that she needed this money to help fund a larger home purchase for her and her two children, to allow them to each have a bedroom of their own, and to allow her partner to have office space in their house. 

The Court’s decision. 

Having considered all of the facts of the matter, the Court turned to considering Mrs Shapton’s personal circumstances, discovering that she and her family were able to afford regular skiing holidays, other holidays abroad, had a healthy income and a company car. 
The Court therefore dismissed Mrs Shapton’s claim as it became ‘perfectly clear’ that the family had a high combined income, which was more than adequate to meet their day-to-day needs. Therefore, as they could provide for themselves, Mrs Shapton had no claim under the 1975 Inheritance Act. 
The Court held that Ms Seviour’s updated Will was valid, and the provisions would stand. 

What happened next for Mrs Shapton? 

Well, as her case was dismissed, Mrs Shapton was ordered to pay costs, which amounted to in excess of £50,000. So, not only was she not entitled to receive any funds from her father’s Estate, but her High Court battle also ended up leaving her over £50,000 out of pocket. 
Expert Will writing Solicitors in England and Wales: 
No matter where you are located across England and Wales, MG Legal's expert Wills Solicitors are here to help you to achieve the best possible outcome in your legal matter. 
To speak to a solicitor today, contact us online here. Or give us a call on 01772 783314 
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