Irrational Will Leaving Estate to Charity Declared Valid

Contested Wills Lawyer, Naomi Ireson, draws lessons from the decision in Vegetarian Society and Another v Scott [2013] EWHC 4097 (Ch)

The case of Vegetarian Society and Another v Scott centred on the validity of a Will made Mr Mr John McKeen in 2005. Mr McKeen died in November 2007, aged 65. He was a schizophrenic suffering from a severe thought disorder. He lived with his mother for the majority of his life, generally entering and exiting the house through a first floor window, habitually dressed like a tramp. He washed himself outdoors in cold water, had no fridge and cooked on a camping stove. He kept a diary which contained bizarre entries.

Mr McKeen made three Wills during the 1990’s leaving significant shares of his £1,000,000 estate to his nephews. However, his last Will, which was executed in August 2006, left his nephews a share of a pecuniary legacy of £5,000. The vast majority of his residuary estate was left to the Vegetarian Society and another charity.

His nephews’ mother (his sister), Jennifer Scott, contested that the Will alleging it was invalid on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity, owing to his mental health disorders. Mrs Scott submitted that her brother was never a vegan nor a vegetarian and had no links to the charity. She suggested it was not merely caprice, but irrational.

The charities, whilst accepting that Mr McKeen had a disorder of the mind, applied for his Will to be upheld on the basis that he had the requisite capacity to execute a Will.

Judge Simon Baker declared that the Will was valid. He noted that Mr McKeen had conducted several property transactions during his life that appeared rational enough. The judge went on to say, “the plain fact in this case is that when making his 2006 Will Mr McKeen did not feel the bond of natural love and affection with his blood family that usually exist … accordingly, he consciously decided to leave his estate elsewhere”.

This case highlights the hurdles that anyone challenging the validity of a Will on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity must overcome in order to succeed. It’s a common misconception in our experience that just because a testator has mental issues they automatically lack testamentary capacity. That is not the case, and this case reinforces that message.

If you are contesting the validity of a Will then call the experts today on 0808 139 1606 for free initial advice.