Lord Templeman, who was a former member of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, was the father of the second and third defendants and the father-in-law of the first defendant. In 1996 he was remarried to a distant cousin, Sheila Edworthy, and moved home to live with her in a property called Mellowstone, Exeter, which she had inherited from her second husband, John Edworthy. Following his second marriage, Lord Templeman became very much part of his wife’s family and developed close bonds with her step-daughters, the claimants. On 3 December 2004 Lord Templeman and his wife made complementary testamentary dispositions dividing the estimated value of Mellowstone (net of inheritance tax) on the second death between his six grandchildren at £20,000 each and the residuary beneficiaries totalling £120,000.
Lord Templeman’s wife died on 11 June 2008 and, in the event, he inherited Mellowstone. Subsequently, when reminded by the second claimant that Mellowstone now belonged to him, Lord Templeman thought that this was not right and he should see his solicitor to put it right as he felt that the property, which had been built by his late wife and her second husband, really belonged to the claimants. On 11 August 2008, Lord Templeman gave instructions to his solicitor to make a new will, gifting the property and household chattels to the claimants and residuary estate to the second and third defendants. A further meeting with his solicitor took place on 19 August 2008 to discuss a draft of the will which had been sent to him and, on 22 August 2008, there was a third meeting during which Lord Templeman signed the will.
When a copy of the new will was supplied to the first and second defendants, they were dismayed by the terms and could see no logical reason why the benefits to the claimants should be increased at the expense of the grandchildren and other residuary beneficiaries, concluding that he must have forgotten the terms of his previous will and codicil. When it was pointed out to Lord Templeman that his grandchildren had been left out of the new will he expressed concern and said that this must be put right. In May 2009, Lord Templeman arranged to make lifetime gifts of £20,000 to each of his grandchildren (ie a total of £120,000) and gifts of £100,000 to each of his two sons. He gave them a further £100,000 each in June 2011.
Lord Templeman died in June 2014. The validity of his last will was challenged by the first and second defendants on the ground of lack of testamentary capacity. They contended that the reason given by Lord Templeman for making the change as regards Mellowstone in 2008 was irrational and that it should be inferred that he had forgotten the testamentary arrangements which had previously been made in 2004. Accordingly, they contended that Lord Templeman had been acting under a mistaken or illusory belief that he had not provided for the eventuality that he inherited Mellowstone and thus had proceeded on a false premise that in fairness Mellowstone should be left to the claimants. By reason of that illusory belief, they argued, Lord Templeman did not sufficiently appreciate the relative nature and extent of the calls upon his bounty from his own family and from his late wife’s family, and so he lacked testamentary capacity.
Held (admitting the will to probate in solemn form)
Although it was clear that Lord Templeman experienced difficulties with his episodic (short-term recall) memory at the relevant time, the medical evidence indicated that there was a relatively high degree of probability that Lord Templeman had testamentary capacity when he made his last will in 2008. Moreover, despite those difficulties, it was clear that at the time he made the lifetime gifts in May 2009 Lord Templeman had the mental skills required to assess, if not remember, the terms of previous testamentary dispositions and evaluate what gifts should appropriately be made to his family and what his future needs were in terms of capital and income, bearing in mind that Mellowstone was to be left to the claimants.
Lord Templeman’s difficulties were with his episodic memory, not with his working memory. Given his legal training and mental faculties, Lord Templeman would have remembered his previous testamentary instruments and it could not be inferred that he did not raise the question of a medical assessment – one of his landmark judicial decisions was in relation to the so-called ‘golden rule’ – because he had no functioning memory and therefore no testamentary capacity. The test for testamentary capacity did not depend on a testator’s ability to judge to a nicety the relative merits of rival claimants, or judge correctly to what extent their needs have already been met from some other source. It depended on having capacity to appreciate those persons who have a claim and to decide fairly between competing beneficiaries, making provision for some and not for others.
The central question was whether Lord Templeman had testamentary capacity, in particular whether he was capable of comprehending and appreciating the rival claims on his estate, or whether he was then acting under a delusion that perverted his sense of relative entitlement. In this respect, he was not deluded in thinking that some wrong had been done to the claimants; he wanted to ensure that Mellowstone went to them after his death because he felt that it properly belonged to them and because he was very attached to them. Consequently, Lord Templeman was able to comprehend and appreciate those who had a call on his estate and was not suffering from a delusion or illusory belief that had poisoned his mind so that he lacked testamentary capacity when he made his last will in August 2008.
The same conclusion that he had testamentary capacity would have been reached even if Lord Templeman had forgotten the terms of his previous testamentary instruments when making his new will and was acting in the belief that a wrong had been done to the claimants that needed to be put right. The criterion of comprehending and appreciating the claims upon a testator required capacity to understand, not actual comprehension, and the notion that a will could not be valid unless a testator was aware of the terms of previous testamentary instruments or has to mind the reasons underlining the gifts in them was rejected. Even if it could be said that Lord Templeman’s thinking in August 2008 amounted to or involved an illusory belief, it fell far short of the kind of delusion needed to negate testamentary capacity.
Moreover, Re Belliss was not authority for the proposition that a mere mistaken belief, which was a product of forgetfulness, was inimical to testamentary capacity. In that case, the phrase ‘illusory belief’ was not being used as synonymous with ‘mistaken belief’ but as a kind of fixed belief, similar in character to an insane delusion which the testator did not have the mental power to overcome. Accordingly, this was not a case in which Lord Templeman had a disorder of the mind that poisoned his affections, perverted his sense of right or prevented the exercise of his natural faculties. He was able to comprehend and appreciate the claims to which he ought to give effect.JUDGMENT FANCOURT J: Introduction  This trial concerned the validity of the last will of Lord Templeman. The only issue is whether Lord Templeman had testamentary capacity when he executed the will before a solicitor and another witness in August 2008. This was a little under six years before his death in June 2014. The …