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Mental capacity - a case law review - Banks v Goodfellow

View profile for Jordan Davies
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When an individual is making important life decisions, it is vital to ensure that they are in the right frame of mind to do so, and hold the appropriate mental capacity at the time. It is also important to ensure that they fully understand their position and the impact that their decisions will have on others. This applies when a person is dealing with their Will, whether they are amending an existing Will or executing a Will for the first time.

The issues of mental capacity, and due knowledge and understanding, are complex matters. Often, elderly people making wills do not have the same level of mental capacity as they did when they were younger. However, this does not necessarily mean that they do not have the capacity to execute a Will. If a person can demonstrate that they have knowledge of their estate, understanding of the terms of the will that they are executing and the effect that this will have, a court will seek to declare the Will valid.

There may be occasions where you have reasons to doubt that a person had the requisite mental capacity and/or due knowledge and approval of what they were doing. In such instances, you may wish to challenge the validity of the document that they created at this time.

When brining such claims, it is important to consider how the courts have dealt with different cases in the past. This article will be looking to consider some of the most important cases governing mental capacity and how the courts have interpreted the same.

Banks v Goodfellow

The case of Banks v Goodfellow provided us with the ‘Golden Rule’, a test considering a person’s mental capacity and whether they had due knowledge and understanding. Since judgment was issued on the case, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 has been brought in to play but the test has stood the test of time.

The Golden Rule test states:

“It is essential to the exercise of such a power that a testator shall understand the nature of the act and its effects; shall understand the extent of the property of which he is disposing; shall be able to comprehend and appreciate the claims to which he ought to give effect; and, with a view to the latter object, that no disorder of the mind shall poison his affections, pervert his sense of right, or prevent the exercise of his natural faculties – that no insane delusion shall influence his will in disposing of his property and bring about a disposal of it which, if the mind had been sound, would not have been made.”

In essence, when considering this in the context of executing a will, a person must have a firm understanding of what they hold in their estate, how they wish to distribute their estate and the effect that this will have. They must have arrived at their decision on how to distribute their estate on their own, without the influence of others, and the contents of their will must reflect their true wishes and intentions.

The burden of proof lies with the person seeking to challenge a person’s mental capacity and it is for them to prove that the test is not satisfied.

Over the next few weeks, we will look at different cases relating to mental capacity, as well as knowledge and approval, and the impact that they have had, and will continue to have, on claims moving forwards.

If you think that you may want to challenge a Will, please get in touch with us and we will be happy to discuss your matter further, call us on 0161 696 6178 or complete our online enquiry form.