The de facto partner of ecologist Elizabeth Walker, who died from cancer in 2010, has won the right to inherit under her will despite a legal challenge from Walker’s daughters.
Elizabeth Walker separated from her husband in 2007, leaving the family home to move in with Badmin. However, in 2009 she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour which killed her only a year later.
Michael Badmin and Elizabeth Walker began their relationship in 2005, moving in together when she left her husband in 2007 until her death.
Her daughters from her first marriage aruged that Walker had had diminished mental capacity when she signed the will that left much of her estate to Badmin only a month prior to her death.
Mrs Walker’s divorce became final in January 2010 and only days later, she signed a new will which left half of her £1.18 property and half of everything else she owned to Badmin. The remainder of her estate would be split among her daughters.
Her daughters argued that her terminal illness and tumour left her in a ‘delusional’ and ‘irrational’ state of mind when she drew up the will. Her daughter Alison testified that the brain tumour had “changed her [mother’s] perception of everything.”
Judge Nicholas Strauss QC ruled that although Mrs Walker’s mental powers had declined considerably by the time she signed the will, her testamentary capacity had not been impaired. He also commented that: “The evidence shows that she retained her love and affection for her daughters throughout. Whilst there is some evidence that she continued to suffer occasionally from delusions, or at least irrational thoughts, they did not relate to her daughters and had no influence on her will.”
The lawyer for Mr Badmin said:
“This will have an impact on future cases where family members try to suggest that any changes to a will made while someone is terminally ill may not be valid on grounds of mental capacity.
“A will is the way in which someone sets out what they want to happen after they die. Ultimately, what we have been able to prove is that Ms Walker knew precisely what she was doing, despite her illness, when she made her decision to leave most of her fortune to Mr Badmin.”
What is Testamentary Capacity?
In Australian law, for someone to execute a valid will, they must:
- understand the nature and effect of a will
o they must understand what a will is and what it is used for
- know the nature and extent of their property;
o they must know what assets they own
- comprehend and appreciate the claims to which they ought to give effect;
o they must know who they’re leaving their estate to, including who might have a legal claim to their estate
- are not affected by delusions that influence the disposal of their assets at the time they are making their will.
o they must not suffer from a disorder of their mind that influences the way they make their will.
Judge Knauss’s comments show that while Mrs Walker suffered from the effects of her tumour, she was still able to understand what the will document was, what she owned, and who she ought to consider when making the will.
The lack of testamentary capacity of a will maker is one reason someone might challenge a will.
If you have questions about challenging a will, or defending a will from a challenge, please contact us today for your free, 10-minute consultation.