In a recent Queensland Supreme Court decision, the judge considered whether an individual had the capacity to make a will and make a decision regarding the ownership of his house.

The judge held that even though the will maker appeared to give sound instructions to his lawyer, his instructions were based on “non-bizarre delusions”, meaning delusions that sounded rational however were caused by extreme and irrational thoughts. As a result, it was held he did not have the capacity to make a will or to change his property ownership.

The Facts

  • The will maker, Lloyd, had four adult children. Susan, one of his daughters, and her husband, Richard, were the plaintiffs in the proceedings.
  • In 2015, Lloyd decided to move to Queensland for the benefits of the warmer weather to his health. At the time, Susan was her parents’ carer. Her mother Shirley suffered from severe dementia.
  • Lloyd, Shirley, Susan and Richard all moved to Queensland. Shirley went straight into care.
  • Lloyd decided to purchase a house from the proceeds of the sale of Shirley and his house. He recorded the ownership of the house as Susan and himself as joint tenants. By doing so, if Susan survived him, she would automatically become the sole owner of the property on Lloyd’s death and it would not form any part of Lloyd’s estate.
  • Lloyd completed a statutory declaration explaining his reasoning for the joint tenancy, recording that it was his intention for Susan to inherit it upon his passing; due to the level of care she had provided both Shirley and him.
  • Lloyd also completed a new will in March 2015, gifting everything else in his estate to Susan.
  • In 2016, Lloyd developed delusions of theft, drugging and financial abuse by Susan and Richard. He obsessed about a coin collection which he accused Richard of stealing. He was also concerned the police were investigating him. There was no explanation for the sudden onset on these delusions and was no factual proof to them.
  • In 2016, Lloyd’s relationship with Susan and Richard came to an end and he moved out of the home, to New South Wales to live with another daughter. Lloyd also changed his will on two separate occasions removing Susan, and severed the joint tenancy, meaning the property was now held as tenants in common where Lloyd’s interest would pass under his new Will.

The Issue

The judge highlighted the two main issues to be decided in the case:

  • Did Lloyd have the testamentary capacity to make either of two wills in April 2016 or May 2016; and
  • Did he have the capacity to end the joint tenancy?

The Decision

The judge held that Lloyd’s “non-bizarre delusions” were material to his decisions and underpinned his instructions for his new wills. As a result, he failed to meet the capacity test that needs to be satisfied to make a new will.

The judge also held that because the house was held as joint tenants for effective estate planning, changing that decision was also subject to the same high capacity test as making a Will.

The judge stated that Lloyd’s delusions poisoned his thinking in that he could not evaluate the impact of changing his Will and property ownership, on the potential strength of the claims of his children against his estate.

The March 2015 will was therefore held to be the final will and the joint tenancy was reinstated.

Importance of professional advice

This decision highlights the importance of seeking advice from an experienced wills and estates lawyer. If you need assistance with your estate planning or have a query in relation to an estate, contact us today on 07 3025 9000.