Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Assessing Testamentary Capacity: A further (+ deeper)** lesson

View Legal Blog Assessing Testamentary Capacity A further (+ deeper) lesson

Last week’s post considered some of the key issues in relation to assessing testamentary capacity.

A case that provides an interesting further insight into the issues that should be considered is Roche v Roche & Anor [2017] SASC 8. As usual if you would like a copy of the case please contact me.

Relevantly, the decision confirms that, as with many other 19th century common law principles governing the legal effect of mental illness, the statements in Banks v Goodfellow (see the links in last week’s post that provide a summary of this case) no longer fully reflect modern medical knowledge.

That is, it is now recognised that there are a broad range of cognitive, emotional and mental dysfunctions, the effects of which are difficult to identify precisely or delineate from the exercise of ones ‘natural faculties’ and the reasoning capacity of a ‘sound’ mind.

What this means in a practical sense is that the rules as to assessing testamentary capacity must recognise and allow for the natural decline in cognitive functioning and mental state due to old age.

While the rules in the Banks decision therefore still provide a useful starting point, the courts also acknowledge that many wills are made by people of advanced years.

In these situations, slowness, illness, feebleness and eccentricity will sometimes be apparent. However, the presence of these factors is not ordinarily sufficient, if proved, to disentitle a will maker of the right to dispose of their property by will.

** for the trainspotters, a classic song from The Church album ‘Further, Deeper’, namely ‘Miami’.