Bachelor farmer did have capacity to make will leaving land to nephew, judge rules
A bachelor farmer had capacity and was not subject to undue influence when he made a will leaving his entire holding to one of his nephews, the High Court ruled.
Mr Justice Charles Meenan overturned a Circuit Court finding that Michael Buckley (76), who had a 54-acre farm at Caim, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, was not of sound disposing mind when making the will. The farm was left to Richard Cooper Junior (40), son of Sheila Cooper, Michael's sister.
Mr Buckley made the will in his hospital bed five days before he died on March 20, 2011.
Four other siblings of Michael Buckley - Teresa Doyle and Joseph, William and Elizabeth Buckley - sued Richard Cooper Junior claiming their brother lacked the required mental capacity to properly and legally dispose of his property.
The court was told Michael's health began to deteriorate towards the end of 2010 and by early 2011 it was clear he was terminally ill with cancer.
Mr Justice Meenan said that after he was hospitalised, his sister Sheila took on the bulk of the responsibility of ensuring he had all his necessities, along with her husband Dick Cooper.
The judge said there was evidence given of a physical fight between Michael and Richard junior - which the nephew strongly denied ever happened - sometime before Michael got sick.
"While the disagreement, whatever precisely it may have been, may have reached the point of a physical confrontation with the deceased, I cannot see that such would be a basis for making a claim of undue influence," he said.
There was also evidence about conversations among family members about Michael's health and who would inherit the property.
The judge did not think it surprising such conversations would take place given the importance of the property to the family.
The court also heard that one solicitor was asked by Sheila to visit Michael in hospital to make a will, but found he was too ill to make it on March 12, 2015.
Three days later, March 15, Sheila's husband asked another solicitor to visit him to make a will, and this was when the will was made. These arrangements could not be considered to be acts of undue influence, the judge said.
Mr Justice Meenan was satisfied the evidence to the court of the second solicitor, Jason Dunne of John A Sinnott & Co, was "both truthful and accurate".
Mr Dunne acted professionally in reaching his conclusion that Michael did have capacity. The deceased gave an inaccurate answer to the acreage of his farm, but other information given was accurate.
The fact that what was described as a "squiggle" for a signature as explained by Mr Dunne as down to Michael being physically weak. That also did not indicate lack of capacity.
Though Michael was under the effects of opioid-based painkillers and in a weakened state, the judge was satisfied the levels of these drugs present in his blood system when he made the will were low.
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