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Farmer’s final Will declared invalid – despite doctor confirming he had mental capacity

A bitter inheritance dispute which has torn yet another farming family apart has finally ended with the High Court setting aside the third and final Will of 84-year-old Evan Hughes.

In what the judge described as a ‘difficult and sad case’, it was ruled that although Mr Evans had his Will drawn up by a solicitor, and passed a mental capacity assessment by a GP, he didn’t, in fact, have the mental capacity needed to make a valid Will at the time.

The court’s decision means the wishes expressed in Mr Hughes’ previous Wills – that a parcel of farmland would go, as promised, to his son Elfed’s estate, for his many years of hard work – have been upheld.

What happened in this farming dispute?

Evan Hughes – who had substantial assets including property, farmland and shares in a building company – made his final Will in March 2016, not long after one of his son’s, Elfed, took his own life.

He had always promised Elfed that an area of farmland known as Yr Efail would be his when he died. Elfed had relied on this, to his detriment, by working long hours on both his and his father’s acreage, buying land adjoining his father’s and paying for the vast majority of expenses.

The main change to Evan’s 2016 Will was to leave Yr Efail to another son, Gareth, and the rest of the farmland to Elfed’s widow, Gwen.

This final Will was contested by Gwen, Elfed’s sister, Carys, and Elfed’s eldest son, Stephen.

Did Evan have the capacity to make changes to his Will?

This was the point on which the case hinged.

Although Evan’s GP, Dr Pritchard, saw him in June 2016 and determined he did have the capacity to make changes to his Will, just a month later he expressed concern over ‘mixed type dementia which is deteriorating quite rapidly’.

In court, Dr Pritchard said he had been misled over changes to the 2016 Will, believing these would only be minor. He also said this was Evan’s belief at the time, a statement supported by other witnesses.

This led directly to the judge’s decision to set aside the 2016 Will on the basis of lack of testamentary capacity.

The judge also declared that even if the 2016 Will had been valid, Yr Efail should still pass to Elfed’s estate under the doctrine of ‘proprietary estoppel’ – basically, a legal remedy to ensure a promise is kept. Common in farming inheritance disputes, click here to read what we’ve written about it recently.

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Disputes of this kind are increasingly common in the agricultural world, possibly because farms are so often family concerns handed down from generation to generation with robust succession planning sometimes overlooked as a result.

Wards Solicitors has a dedicated, award winning Probate Disputes team specialising in these sorts of claims. It is led by Partner Elizabeth Fry, recommended in the independent Legal 500 guide for 2021 as experienced in ‘handling cases involving high-value estates, trusts and land law issues, including many with a cross border element’.

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