A recent case, involving a bitter dispute amongst a Norfolk farming family, has shown that a will may not be upheld by the courts if there are serious doubts about the testamentary capacity of the person who made it. In the case concerned, the two sons of the deceased persuaded the court to overturn their late father’s will on the ground that he was mentally incapable when he created it.

The man had made an earlier will, executed in 2001, which left his two sons the family farm on which they had worked all their lives, subject to a life interest in favour of his wife. His two married daughters, both of whom had moved away, were bequeathed legacies of £15,000 each.

The man’s wife died in 2006. At that time, the daughters returned and discovered the contents of their father’s will. Within a week, one of the daughters had driven her father to the office of their solicitor, where a new will was executed. This divided the bulk of the estate between the two daughters.

In a hearing which lasted three days, and contained more than its fair share of accusations of impropriety, the will was deemed by the court to be invalid. Crucially for the brothers’ case, there had been no attempt to check the man’s mental state, despite his age (89) and the fact that his wife of 65 years had been dead for less than a week when the new will was made.