Testamentary capacity was considered in a recent Victorian Supreme Court case.
The court found In the Matter of the Will and Estate of Joyce Helen Greer, deceased  VSC 592 that the then 95-year-old testator had capacity. Her will in which she made no provision for one of her two adult sons was admitted to probate.
Of importance in the court’s decision was evidence from the lawyer who took the instructions and drew the will. This was not the testator’s usual solicitor. Her long-term solicitor, one of the executors of the will, had referred the testator to another solicitor, a specialist in wills. He had taken comprehensive instructions and made appropriate notes. He also sought a medical report from the testator’s usual doctor.
The evidence of the testator’s doctor impressed the court and it was preferred to evidence from expert medical practitioners led by both parties. The experts gave opinions based on records, but had not seen the testator.
One of the experts noted a ‘…general consensus amongst experts that capacity is task specific and that individuals with cognitive impairment may retain capacity to do many tasks. Even if [the testator] had been suffering from a degree of executive impairment affecting, for example, her ability to regulate her behavior in a social setting, it did not necessarily follow that she lacked testamentary capacity‘. That is an important point for solicitors taking instructions from will makers to bear in mind.
The case includes, at  – , an analysis of the cases on proof of testamentary capacity. The court noted that ‘The proof required to establish testamentary capacity does not need to eliminate all doubt and a residual ‘doubt’ does not necessarily exclude the existence of testamentary capacity‘.
The statement of Kirby P in Re Griffith (1995) 217 ALR 284, 294 that the freedom of testation includes the freedom to be ‘unfair, unwise or harsh with one’s own property’ was also cited with approval.
This useful case on testamentary capacity has been added to the By Lawyers 101 Succession Answers (NSW) publication. This valuable resource is found in the Reference Materials folder in the Wills, Estates, Family Provision Claims, and Powers of Attorney, Appointment of Enduring Guardian and Advance Care Planning guides.