Making a valid will requires an exercise of independent decision-making, free from the undue influence of others. The High Court powerfully made that point in finding that a daughter coerced her ailing mother into bequeathing everything to her.
The mother was aged 82 when she made her one and only will, leaving her home and everything else she owned to one of her four daughters. She had by then been diagnosed with dementia and had suffered a suspected stroke. She died three months after signing the document. A legal challenge to the will's validity was later brought by two of her disinherited daughters and four of her grandchildren.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the circumstances were suspicious. No solicitor was involved in the preparation and execution of the will and the mother was not medically examined at the time. The Court was not, however, satisfied on the evidence either that she lacked the mental capacity required to make a valid will or that she did not know and approve of the document's contents.
In nevertheless ruling the will invalid, the Court found that the facts pointed inevitably to a conclusion that the daughter who became her sole beneficiary had coerced her into making it. She may have believed that she was simply persuading her mother to do the right thing, but the undue influence that she brought to bear went far beyond persuasion.
The mother was very vulnerable, both physically and mentally, when she signed the will. She had been devastated by the recent death of one of her daughters and was probably still grieving deeply. After moving in with her, the daughter who benefited under the will had taken steps to isolate her from other members of the family. The daughter's assertion that she had nothing to do with making the will was inherently unlikely.
The Court found that the mother signed the will not as a free agent but because her volition had been overcome by her daughter's undue influence. The decision meant that she died without making a valid will and that her estate would be distributed amongst her next of kin in accordance with intestacy rules.