High Court upholds will's validity amidst dispute over testamentary capacity

The court refused to recall probate as it had not been officially granted yet

High Court upholds will's validity amidst dispute over testamentary capacity

The High Court has ruled in favour of granting probate on a 2018 will amidst claims challenging its validity.

The dispute in Wilson v Vallely-Te Kani [2024] NZHC 1091 centred around the late George Wilson’s testamentary capacity and allegations of undue influence and culminated in the court’s decision to grant probate for the 2018 will, rejecting earlier wills proposed by the litigants.

The plaintiffs, Clive Wilson and Jeffrey Wilson, George’s only living children, initiated the action to invalidate the 2018 will. They argued that their father lacked the necessary testamentary capacity and was under the undue influence of the defendant, Danielle Sarah Vallely-Te Kani, George's granddaughter. They proposed instead to enforce the will dated September 9, 2004, which favoured them more significantly.

Danielle defended against these claims, acknowledging concerns about her grandfather’s mental capacity but supporting the validity of the 2018 will. She also highlighted the existence of a 2013 will that, if the 2018 will were invalidated, should take precedence over the 2004 will.

The High Court, after reviewing the submissions and evidence provided, determined that there was no need to recall probate as it had not been officially granted yet. The court addressed several procedural confusions and apologized for any misunderstandings caused by delays in the proceedings.

The factual background revealed that George’s estate had been a point of contention within the family for some years, especially following the death of his wife in 2013 and subsequent disputes about the family home. At various points, George lived with different family members, which influenced his relationships and decisions regarding his will.

Regarding the 2018 will, the court noted George had appointed his son Jeffrey and granddaughter Danielle as executors and trustees, explicitly excluding his son Clive as a beneficiary. This exclusion was attributed to existing familial discord reflected in previous legal disputes. Danielle was favoured in this will, receiving significant gifts, including George's British Royal Navy service medals.

The judgment addressed the critical issue of George’s mental state at the time of the 2018 will's creation. Despite an expert report suggesting cognitive impairment, the court found persuasive a medical certification by another doctor in August 2018 affirming George's testamentary capacity. Coupled with evidence of independent legal advice provided to George, the court concluded he understood the implications of his 2018 will.

Regarding undue influence, the court found insufficient evidence to support the claim that Danielle had coerced George into making the 2018 will. It noted the presence of independent legal advice and lack of proof that the will's preparation was anything but conscientious.

Ultimately, the High Court ruled in favour of granting probate for the 2018 will, dismissing the claims of undue influence and confirming George’s testamentary capacity.

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