Where a will has been executed in suspicious conditions the court have to be satisfied that the testator (the individual making the will) understood and accepted the contents of his will including choosing the beneficiaries.
In suspicious circumstances, those contesting a will(beneficiaries), will typically raise accusations of undue impact (i.e. the testator was persuaded into making the will) or that criminal activity has taken place. It is typically challenging to prosper with such arguments, as the burden of proof is high. An alternative, where suspicious circumstances exist, is to raise an argument that the testator did not have the required knowledge to understand his/her will which they did not authorize the content. The burden of proof for such cases is far less.
Anticipation of understanding and approval
Where a will has been performed correctly (i.e. the testator has signed the will in the presence of 2 witnesses who have actually also signed the will) and the testator had the required testamentary ability, understanding and approval will be presumed.
However, there are specific scenarios, which are outlined below whereby it must be proved that the testator had the needed understanding to understand the material of their will which they accepted the content.
Exceptions to the assumption of knowledge and approval
If the testator is among the following, the court will require enough proof to prove that the testator comprehended and accepted the content of the will, namely:
– can not speak or compose or is paralysed;
– blind or illiterate; or
– deaf and/or dumb;
– the will is alleged to have been signed by another individual for the deceased at his instructions.
Conditions which excite the caution and suspicion of the court when contesting a will
In addition to the exceptions above, whilst there is a basic anticipation of understanding and approval, if the scenarios surrounding the will being carried out raise such suspicion, it will then be for those who believe the will to be valid to call evidence to dispel the suspicions. The higher the suspicion, the higher the concern on the person trying to prove the will to eliminate that suspicion. Even if there are suspicious circumstances, if the will is a simple file, it is commonly much easier to show understanding and approval.
A timeless example of a case where the last will of the testator was found to be void on premises of knowledge and approval is Vaughan and others v Vaughan  The judge in this case discovered that the truths led themselves to being “bristled with suspicious conditions”. Instructions for the will were given by a beneficiary and the testator took no guidance in relation to the will. It was suggested that a medical viewpoint be acquired however this guidance was disregarded by the recipient. The testator did not check out over the will at the time it was performed and accordingly the judge found that the testator did not have the needed knowledge and approval.
In circumstances where part of the will is read over to the testator but not all the will, the guidelines relating to knowledge and approval should just apply to part of the will.
Where a will is effectively challenged and the court verifies the will is invalid, if there is not an earlier legitimate will, then the testator’s estate will be promoted according to the intestacy rules.
Adapted from an article on wrighthassall