chapter  4
29 Pages

‘Of Sound and Disposing Mind and Memory’: Testamentary Capacity and Undue Influence

The greatest proportion of wills observed in my collection of Prerogative Court of Canterbury causes was challenged on the grounds either that the testator lacked testamentary capacity at the time of execution, or that the testamentary act offered for probate was procured by undue influence. These two bases for contest – discrete ones in the law of wills – are nevertheless interrelated: in both, the will-maker’s mental state at the time the will was executed is at issue. At first glance, what was at stake in each of these testamentary causes was the validity of a single will, and the court was presented with a simple decision: should it confirm the will offered for probate and allow an individual’s estate to pass according the terms set out therein; or should the court invalidate the will and mandate that the deceased’s property should descend by the laws of intestate succession?