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Wife inherits husband’s estate despite family’s challenge to his will

The wife of an alcoholic has inherited his estate after a court rejected claims that his mental condition meant he lacked the necessary capacity to make a valid will.

The man ran a family business with his two brothers. As a result of his alcoholism he often needed hospital treatment. On one occasion he spent two months in hospital during which time his mental state was considered to be clouded but he was not diagnosed as suffering from a mental illness.

During this time he made an enduring power of attorney in his wife’s favour but then revoked it soon afterwards because he felt he could conduct his own affairs.

When he was discharged he instructed his solicitor that he wanted to change his will to leave all his assets to his wife. The solicitor cautioned him that this may cause an upset because he had previously left his share in the family business to his two brothers. However, he confirmed that he wanted to press ahead and the will was executed.

A week later he became disorientated and recorded a low score on a mental test carried out by his doctors. However, further tests were carried out two weeks later and his score was much better. Shortly afterwards he started drinking again and died a year later from liver failure.

His two brothers then challenged the will because they claimed he lacked testamentary capacity - that is, the mental capacity and awareness to make a valid will - due to his illness and alcoholism. They submitted that the earlier will, leaving shares in the company to them, should stand instead.

The court, however, ruled that the will was valid because the man had not lacked testamentary capacity when he made it. There had been no diagnosis of dementia while he was in hospital, no one had questioned his capacity to make and revoke an enduring power of attorney and his solicitor had been satisfied that he had the capacity to make a will.

The man had also been able to give objective and rational reasons for leaving his company shares to his wife rather than his brothers. It was clear that he understood and approved the provisions of the new will and so therefore it should be allowed to stand.

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