A will dispute hits the cobbles

17 August 2018

Avid Coronation Street viewers are currently watching a will dispute unravel before them on a daily basis.

The story continues from the tragic suicide of Aiden Connor. Following his death, his family were shocked and upset to discover that he left his share of the family business, the infamous Underworld, to his friend. Aiden's half-sister had gifted him her interest in the family business a few months before he died and assumed that upon his death, it would be returned to her. Sadly, under the terms of his will, this is not the case. A local solicitor has advised that she may be able to challenge the will on the grounds that Aiden lacked capacity due to depression.

Is depression tantamount to lack of capacity?

In order to make a valid will, the testator must have valid testamentary capacity. The test laid down by Banks v Goodfellow (1870) deems that the test is threefold:

  • the testator must understand the nature of making a will and its effects
  • the testator must understand the extent of the property of which he is disposing
  • the testator must be able to understand and appreciate the claims to which he ought to give effect and is not affected by any disorder of the mind that influences his decision.

Importantly, the case of Key v Key [2010] found that mood disorders, such as depression, can hinder testamentary capacity. In the Key case the testator was elderly and had recently lost his wife of 65 year who had done everything for him. As such it was held that Mr Key's reaction to her death went above that of 'normal grief.' The medical experts in the case gave evidence that affective disorders including depression, may lead to an increased suggestibility in the mind of the patient, so that he simply agrees to suggestions from others.

The court found that a person suffering from such a disorder may be able to understand the extent of his property and those around him but may lack the capacity to make decisions of his own accord as to who should benefit.

Mental illness will not automatically invalidate a will and with many mental illnesses capacity can fluctuate on a day-to-day basis. In Coronation Street, the family would have to show that Aiden lacked the capacity to make decisions as to who should benefit from his estate. It is very difficult to challenge a will on this basis and requires expert legal and medical advice. 

Are there any other possible claims on Aiden’s estate?

Another aspect of the Coronation Street storyline is that Aiden had a young daughter, Susie. Aiden was unaware of Susi's existence when he made a will so made no provision for her.

Under section 1(1)(c) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975, a child of the deceased is entitled to bring a claim against the estate if reasonable financial provision has not been made for their needs. Susie is likely to have a strong claim as a minor child in need of financial support as there is an expectation that a parent will support their child financially up until adulthood.

Coronation Street is often praised by the media for raising awareness of issues that are becoming increasingly common but are easily misunderstood. This story is yet another example. Disputes concerning people's will are increasing year on year. If you believe you may have a claim against an estate of a loved one, please contact a member of our specialist Contentious Trust and Probate Team. Law covered as at August 2018.