Alcoholism and Mental Capacity

In order to make a valid will, you need to know your own mind – and it helps to have a solicitor on hand to advise you. That was certainly so in a case in which a businessman left the lion’s share of his £1 million fortune to a friend and colleague a few weeks before he died from alcoholism.

Against medical advice, the man had discharged himself from hospital ten days before he signed his last will. He left his shareholding in his company – by far his largest asset – to a friend who had worked with him for over 20 years. The friend was also bequeathed 75 per cent of the residue of his estate.

The man’s widow and three sons, who received 25 per cent of the residue, challenged the validity of the will on the basis that the friend had brought undue influence to bear upon him at a time when he was extremely sick and vulnerable.

The High Court acknowledged that the friend, who had made all the arrangements for execution of the will, was in a position to exert influence. In upholding the will, however, it found that he had not overstepped the mark. The man had wished the company that bore his name to carry on after his death and had viewed his friend as presenting the best prospect of achieving that objective.

The friend may have encouraged or even persuaded him to sign the will, but the Court was satisfied that he had done so of his own volition and had not been overpowered. The evidence of the solicitor who had drafted the will – who was convinced that the businessman was of sound mind, although obviously unwell – was also a crucial factor in the case.