Charles Harwood v Maria Baker: PC 1840

The Board emphasised the importance that the Court of Probate should be satisfied that a testatrix had the necessary capacity when she executed the will if the evidence showed that she had lost capacity shortly afterwards. The infirmity of the testator may strengthen certain presumptions which arise against the will in a case where the will is contrary to the previously expressed intentions of the testator as to his testamentary dispositions.
‘in order to constitute a sound disposing mind, a Testator must not only be able to understand that he is by his will giving the whole of his property to one object of his regard; but that he must also have capacity to comprehend the extent of his property, and the nature of the claims of others, whom by his will he is excluding from all participation in that property.’ and
‘Now if their Lordships had found from the other evidence that Mr Baker had, while in a state of health, compared and weighed the claims of his relations, and had formed the deliberate purpose of rejecting them all in favour of his wife, but had omitted to carry that purpose into effect before the attack of illness under which he dies; and that during that illness he had acted upon that previous intention, and executed a Will in question, – less evidence of the capacity to weigh those claims during his illness might have been sufficient to show that the Will propounded really did contain the expression of the mind and will of the deceased.’
Erskine J said: ‘Their Lordships are of opinion that, in order to constitute a sound disposing mind, a testator must not only be able to understand that he is by his will giving the whole of his property to one object of his regard, but he must also have capacity to comprehend the extent of his property, and the nature of the claims of others, whom by his will he is excluding from all participation in that property; and that the protection of the law is in no cases more needed than it is in those where the mind has been too much enfeebled to comprehend more objects than one; and more especially, when that one object may be so forced upon the attention of the invalid as to shut out all others that might require consideration. And, therefore, the question which their Lordships propose to decide in this case is, not whether Mr Baker knew, when he executed this will, that he was giving all his property to his wife, and excluding all his other relations from any share in it, but whether he was at that time capable of recollecting who those relations were, of understanding their respective claims upon his regard and bounty, and of deliberately forming an intelligent purpose of excluding them from any share of his property. If he had not the capacity required, the propriety of the disposition made by the will is a matter of no importance. If he had it, the injustice of the exclusion would not affect the validity of the disposition, though the justice or injustice of the disposition might cast down some light upon the question as to his capacity.’
and ‘that in all cases the party propounding the Will is bound to prove, to the satisfaction of the Court, that the paper in question does contain the last will and testament of the deceased, and that this obligation is more especially cast upon him when the evidence in the case shows that the mind of the testator was generally, about the time of its execution, incompetent to the exertion required for such a purpose.’

Erskine J
(1840) 3 Moores PCC 282, [1840] EngR 1087, (1840) 3 Moo PC 282, (1840) 13 ER 117
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedEwing v Bennett CA 25-Feb-1998
The claimant appealed admission to probate of the will of the deceased, arguing that she had not had testamentary capacity when it was made.
Held: There was evidence of the beginnings of dementia, but at the tme when she had made the will, the . .
ApprovedBanks v Goodfellow QBD 6-Jul-1870
Test for Capacity to Execute Will
The testator suffered from delusions, but not so badly or in such a way as was found to affect his capacity or to influence his testamentary disposition. The judge had given the following direction: ‘The question is whether . . the testator was . .
CitedHoff and others v Atherton CA 19-Nov-2004
Appeals were made against pronouncements for the validity of a will and against the validity of an earlier will. The solicitor drawing the will was to receive a benefit, and had requested an independent solicitor to see the testatrix and ensure that . .
CitedPotter v Potter FdNI 5-Feb-2003
The testator’s capacity to make his will was challenged. He had lived alone without electricity, but his doctor said he was known to him and was ‘with it’. Evidence from a member of staff at the solicitor’s office supported the doctor’s description. . .
CitedRobin Sharp and Malcolm Bryson v Grace Collin Adam and Emma Adam and others CA 28-Apr-2006
The testator suffered secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. It was said that he did not have testamentary capacity. He had lost the power of speech but communicated by a speech board. The solicitor had followed appropriate standards in attesting . .
CitedMasterman-Lister v Brutton and Co, Jewell and Home Counties Dairies (No 1) CA 19-Dec-2002
Capacity for Litigation
The claimant appealed against dismissal of his claims. He had earlier settled a claim for damages, but now sought to re-open it, and to claim in negligence against his former solicitors, saying that he had not had sufficient mental capacity at the . .
CitedKostic v Chaplin and others ChD 15-Oct-2007
The deceased had for several years suffered a delusional disorder. The validity of his last two wills was challenged. In one had had left his entire estate to the Conservative Party.
Held: The wills were invalid. It was clear that when made, . .
CitedJudy Ledger v Wootton and Another ChD 2-Oct-2007
A grant of probate was challenged, the claimant stating that, at the time of the will, the deceased had lacked testamentary capacity.
Held: The deceased had a history of mental health difficulties. It was for the person proposing a will to . .
CitedKey and Another v Key and Others ChD 5-Mar-2010
The will was challenged for want of testamentary capacity. The testator was 89 years old, and the will was made within a week of the death of his wife of 65 years and without the solicitor having taken any proper steps to satisfy himself as to the . .
CitedPerrins v Holland and Others; In re Perrins, deceased CA 21-Jul-2010
The testator had given instructions for his will and received a draft will. The judge had found that he had capacity to make the will when he gave instructions but not when it was executed. The will having been made in accordance with his . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Wills and Probate, Health

Updated: 18 December 2021; Ref: scu.181900