Hughes v Pritchard & ors [2021] WTLR 893

WTLR Issue: Autumn 2021 #184

GARETH HUGHES

V

1. CARYS PRITCHARD

2. GWEN HUGHES

3. STEPHEN HUGHES

Analysis

The deceased (E) died in March 2017 aged 84. The deceased’s last will was executed in July 2016 with the assistance of solicitors and after a capacity assessment was obtained from his GP. At the time of making his will, the deceased was suffering from moderately severe dementia and was grieving from the death of his eldest son (S) who had taken his own life in September 2015. The will changed the provisions of an earlier will in favour of the claimant (C), also a son of E, inter alia, leaving 58 acres of farmland to C.

The defendants were the sister, widow and eldest son of S. The second and third defendants contended that the deceased’s will was invalid on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity, want of knowledge and approval and/or undue influence exerted by C on E. Alternatively, they contended that the estate of S had a claim in proprietary estoppel.

Held:

The evidence of the single joint expert, which opined that E was likely to have had testamentary capacity, was not followed. The expert evidence was based upon the pleadings, E’s medical records, copies of the will and two previous wills, interim estate accounts, the witness statements of the GP who conducted the capacity assessment, and the solicitor who attended on E. The GP gave oral evidence at trial that he had not appreciated the changes to the will were more complex than he first thought, and had he done so he would have questioned E on his decision to leave 58 acres to C or referred the assessment to an independent medical expert. The evidence of the GP was relied upon in part by the solicitor and she did not discuss with E a previous will made in 2005 or the decision to leave 58 acres to C.

The totality of the evidence, including oral evidence given at trial, was that there had been a long understanding in the family that C and his sister would inherit shares in a family company and S would inherit the farm and the land, and E felt it would be disrespectful to S and his family to change that. In the eight weeks immediately prior to executing the will, E was deteriorating from week to week. No reason was given for the departure from the understanding nor was it mentioned that this was a change from the understanding. On the balance of probabilities E did not have testamentary capacity. E did not appreciate the understanding he had with S or the promises made to S’s family. E did not understand the extent of the farm. E did not understand that the changes were significant.

Although the circumstances gave rise to a suspicion that E lacked knowledge and approval, the evidence that he nodded with approval when the draft will was read clause by clause before he signed it, suggested that if E had had capacity, he would have known and approved of each clause of the will.

The claim of undue influence was not made out. It could not be said that the facts relied upon were not consistent with any other hypothesis.

The claim in proprietary estoppel was made out. There was evidence of an understanding that S would inherit the farm and clear representations to that effect. S relied on these representations by paying E’s bills, farming and maintaining E’s land, equipment and livestock for 38 years, purchasing farm land next to E’s to allow them to work together, and working long hours without holidays and sacrificing his family life. If E’s 2016 will was valid, there should be an equity in favour of S’s estate.

JUDGMENT HHJ JARMAN QC: Introduction [1] In these proceedings the family of the late Evan Hughes who died in March 2017 aged 84, are in dispute as to the validity of his third and final will which he executed on 7 July 2016. I shall refer to each of the three wills by the year …
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Counsel Details

Elis Gomer (St Johns Buildings, 21 White Friars, Chester CH1 1NZ, tel 01244 323 070, email clerk@stjohnsbuildings.co.uk), instructed by Allington Hughes (10 Grosvenor Road, Wrexham LL11 1SD, tel 01978 291000, email Wrexham@allingtonhughes.co.uk) for the claimant.

The first defendant appeared in person.

Alex Troup (St John’s Chambers, 101 Victoria Street, Bristol BS1 6PU, tel 0117 923 4700, email clerks@stjohnschambers.co.uk), instructed by Hugh James (Two Central Square, Cardiff CF10 1FS, tel 033 3016 2222) for the second and third defendants.

Cases Referenced

Legislation Referenced

  • Mental Capacity Act 2005