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A high profile case was heard at the High Court in London recently, in which two Wills prepared by an individual on behalf of his sisters were set aside on the grounds of want of knowledge and approval. We have also just settled a probate dispute where a Will was challenged on this basis. These claims arise when the circumstances surrounding the making of a Will appear to be suspicious. A testator must have knowledge and approval of the contents of a Will in order for it to be valid.
The court will scrutinise all of the ‘suspicious’ circumstances in connection with a disputed will when dealing with want of knowledge and approval allegations. Here are 10 things to look out for, which could be deemed as ‘suspicious’:
In the case of Fuller v Sturm  it was held that if the suspicion of the court is aroused in any way about the circumstances of the drafting of a Will:
"...it must be more clearly shown that the deceased knew and approved the contents of the will so that the suspicion is dispelled. Suspicion may be aroused in varying degrees, depending on the circumstances, and what is needed to dispel the suspicion will vary accordingly"...All the relevant circumstances will be scrutinised by the court which will be "vigilant and jealous" in examining the evidence in support of the will".
In the case of Gill v RSPCA  the Court of Appeal held that a Will was invalid on the grounds of want of knowledge and approval largely because of the lack of supporting evidence produced by the party relying on the disputed Will. There are many other examples of Wills being held invalid on this basis in recent years.
If there is proof of testamentary capacity and due execution, then knowledge and approval will normally be presumed, but ultimately it will depend on the evidence and circumstances in each case. In cases where the Will has been drafted by a solicitor, it will be extremely difficult to argue that a testator did not understand and approve the contents and therefore, although these claims are on rise, it is by no means an easy route for disgruntled family members looking to challenge the validity of a Will.
Should you wish to discuss a disputed Will, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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