Deathbed will invalid

Posted: 14th February 2012

A controversial ‘deathbed will’ decision has been overturned by the Court of Appeal.
The case involved a challenge to a will made only hours before the testator died in hospital. His revised will made his sister (now also deceased) his sole beneficiary. The will was written out longhand by his sister’s daughter and apparently signed by his sister on his behalf when he proved to be too feeble to hold the pen. Handwriting experts had given evidence that the signature was not that of the deceased.
Despite conflicting evidence as to how the will was signed – one witness claimed it was ‘his daughter or perhaps grand-daughter who ‘steadied his hand’ – the lower court accepted that the deceased had sufficient mental capacity to create a new will and that the signature was added ‘at his direction’.
But the Court of Appeal has ruled that there was insufficient evidence that the testator had given a ‘positive communication’ to his sister that she should sign the will. It was therefore ruled to be invalid.
This case will come as a relief to families concerned that a ‘last minute’ will, made in the final few hours of the life of a relative, may suddenly materialise and undermine the previously understood position. It confirms that in such circumstances, the Court will require clear evidence that the deceased was of sound mind and had a genuine change of mind not just that they succumbed to the wishes of others.