1. When Philip Price died in 2019 his handwritten will left everything to his close friend Vanessa Davies. However, Barbara Watts found out after Mr Price’s death that she was his half-sister. If the handwritten will was invalid, Ms Watts would have inherited all of Mr Price’s estate under the rules of intestacy.
  2. In a short judgment, the High Court found that Mr Price’s will was valid and provided useful examples of how the court approaches a claim such as this. Having surveyed the evidence, the court found that the will was duly executed and rational on its face. The burden to disprove capacity therefore fell back onto Ms Watts. However, the court did not determine the case using the burden of proof; given there was a dispute as to capacity and two differing opinions of two eminent old age psychiatrists, it was not appropriate to decide this case on the presumption/burden.
  3. The following principles and illustrations can be drawn from the judgment:
    1. There is a range of human relationships. Two people, though maintaining separate households, are in a long and committed relationship makes no sense. In this case, Mr Price and Ms Davies had a close friendship and companionship, were seen as a couple and […] they shared their lives as close companions. Cohabitation is not the test of whether two people are in a relationship.
    2. Because of that relationship, the Will was rational on its face. The court heard evidence from Mr Price’s friends and neighbours about the relationship between him and Ms Davies. The court made findings and therefore it was rational for Mr Price to have bequeathed all his worldly possessions to his closest companion;
    3. The burden was not conclusive where there was a conflict of evidence. Despite the Will being rational on its fact and duly executed, the judge went through the expert and witness evidence to determine whether Mr Price had capacity. Although Mr Price had been very weak and frail, several witnesses testified that he was mentally very sharp. The judge recorded that the expert testimony relied for some of its conclusions on assumptions from lay witnesses. If those lay witnesses were mistaken, then the expert conclusions would be different. Indeed, the Defendant’s expert report stated the medical evidence can only go so far in this case. I think the court will have to rely on the non-medical evidence and the witness statements, which provide different accounts of Mr Price, to reach its conclusions.
  4. This case was decided on the evidence of the friends and family who knew Mr Price best. Practitioners should be alive to obtain evidence about a deceased’s relationships going back several years (to demonstrate that a will is rational on its face) and in the more recent period leading up to death (to address questions of capacity).

A link to the full judgement can be found here.