Insane delusions and poisoned affections?

Re Ritchie,Ritchie v Joslin [2009]

The classic test for Testamentary Capacity was establish back in 1870 and has stood the test of time ever since! The principles laid down in Banks v Goodfellow [1870-71] state that the Testator (the deceased who made the Will):

  1. Must understand the nature of the act of making a Will and its effect
  2. Must understand the extent of the property of which he is disposing
  3. Must be able to appreciate and comprehend the claims to which he ought to give effect; and
  4. With regard to the 3 above, 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 the property and bring about a disposal of it which, if the mind had been sound, would not have been made

The deceased, Mrs Richie, an elderly lady of 88 years died leaving 4 children (2 boys and 2 girls) together with a substantial Estate of approx £2.5m. By her 1998 Will, Mrs Richie left the majority of her Estate to Charity. None of her 4 children were to receive anything. If the will was held to be invalid, the Estate would pass on Intestacy to the 4 children.

It was common ground between the parties that limbs 1 to 3 of the above test were satisfied. The parties differed however upon whether Mrs Richie was suffering from a mental disorder at the time she made the will and on the effect of any such disorder. It was alleged that Mrs Richie was suffering from irrational delusions. It was alleged, by way of example, that Mrs Richie falsely believed her children had done little or nothing to help her. The solicitor’s attendance notes taken when the Will was prepared supported this and other allegations advanced by Mrs Richie, namely:

  • All her children were well provided for and didn’t need the money
  • The sons had been violent towards her
  • Her daughters did not come near or visit her
  • Her sons were stealing from her

Following detailed evidence, the trial judge accepted that these allegations were not true. Rather than acting inappropriately to their mother who suffered from O.C.D. they had in fact supported her and she had infact been quite dependent upon them.

The central question was whether or not Mrs Richie believed the allegations to be true. If she knew perfectly well that what she was telling the solicitor about her children was untrue, then she could not have been suffering from delusions. However, Mrs Richie’s statements could not be viewed as mere lies – she was suffering from paranoia or an abnormal paranoid disability. The expert medical evidence was accepted that her paranoid personality was a disease of the mind that gave rise to delusion and irrational beliefs. On this basis it was concluded that Mrs Richie did believe that the allegations she made were true.

It therefore remained to be decided whether or not this disease of the mind meant that Mrs Richie’s moral sense, instincts and affections had been perverted by mental disease. Whilst the very experienced probate solicitor and the deceased’s G.P. considered her to have capacity, the judge concluded that the evidence from the solicitor’s notes plainly pointed to the fact that Mrs Richie’s motives in making the Will was to cut out her children, rather than benefit the Charity. There was no rational reason to do this. It was plain therefore that her affections towards her children had been poisoned. She would not have cut them out, but for the deluded beliefs.

It followed therefore that the will was invalid, the Charity lost and the children took the entire Estate equally under the Intestacy rules.